The Fish System: A Poem by Jolyn Phillips

The Fish System

by Jolyn Phillips

 Step one:  my father takes a piece of fish

and hooks it on the line, feeds it to the sea

hoping a twakkie, harder or redroman would bite

as he becomes a piece of poisonous bokkoms

shrivelling in the sun feeding the fish themselves,

trusting they would bite he understands that fish

eat fish that eat the ocean that eats us, and

while my father tricks the fish to eat themselves

we eat ourselves when we eat the fish.

Step two: father brings the fish home

we do not cook the head of the twakkie or the harder

there is no brain to chew, it crunches better

when fried in white maize

even the eye chews like a bubblegum

chewed out, out of flavour

when we see it on our plates

we know fish can kill even when they are dead

so we remove the bones

we chew cautiously, afraid of the death bone

of the fish flesh, white and soft like fur

we have dry bread on standby if the bone

makes it to your throat and chokes you

inside your throat

even when gargling we instinctively reach for the bread

so it can blanket

the bone, push it down to die in our stomach.

Step three: we need money, we need food

we are running out of electricity but we have fire

the winter is not cold enough to freeze the fish

therefore, the fish can only be braaied

can only be frozen in our bodies

cannot be wasted even if the memory of fish and bread

reminds you that yesterday you died

even if you cannot buy life with a fish

even if the rotten fish is the reproach

that my father has failed us

even if the memory of fish and bread

reminds me that I died yesterday

I will put the leftover fish on my bread

and eat it in stages.

Jolyn Phillips is one of the contributors to Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose about Food edited by Kobus Moolman. Cutting Carrots the Wrong Way will be launched at the Food Politics and Cultures Festival this Friday, 10 November 2017.

 

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