Fish Food


Warden is married to his keys –
keeps them on a cord
snaps them back to hip.
Chink, step, chink, step–making rounds.

Twenty years, I worked these walls.
Last month, finished a forest,
a world blooms in my cell.
Swirling clouds cover my sky.
Branches beckon above my bunk.
Eyes of squirrels and other critters
peek from the umber of brush.

Chink, step, chink, step.
Today I rise. Warden pulls his keys
unlocks my cage.
Back to hip.
Sending me home—
Sending me where I began.


Forest insists I visit.
In twenty years,
pine trees stretch,
trails disappear.

Tracing paths on Ponderosa’s skin,
I place my cheek against her sturdiness,
and beg for answers to time’s sweet passage.

Considering all this forest holds,
I course through memory.
A snort disrupts my reverie.
I feel eyes upon my flesh.

Never losing contact with Ponderosa’s trunk,
I turn.
Rising up this she bear towers–her broad head
bruises the underside of branches
until she knocks something loose.

Maybe that’s all she wanted.
On all fours she turns,
and lumbers deep into dense dark woods.

My breath whooshes out
as I settle in a crumpled heap at the base of the tree.
The sun’s light draws my eyes to the ground.
There–what the she bear knocked down.

A key.
A skeleton key.
The skeleton key.

My laughter resonates through every tree’s being.


Twenty years ago, I climbed this tree.
Twenty years ago, I hid this key.
The key to a secret chest I’d stolen
from the cup on my brother’s desk.
The cup with
Don’t Touch
(this means you Bitch)

scrawled on its side.

When confronted, I told him
I threw it in the lake.
At that, one hand grabbed the back of my neck,
the other engulfed my wrist.
He half-pushed, half-pulled me to the lake—
a back and forth waltz to the shore’s rocky edge.

“Get it!” he said.
“Make me!” I dared.

He danced me through the icy wet
until water lapped at my waist.
“Where is it!” he screamed.
No answer.
“Where is it!”

He grasped my hair
in both his hands and
shoved me under.
I struggled to hold onto
the limited air in my lungs,
letting it out in stops and starts.
I tried twisting, turning, kicking.
He jerked my head back,
and got in my face.
“Where is it, you little bitch?”
Nothing but heaving gasps with time for one deep breath.
Under again—I forced myself to open my eyes.
Mossy stones summoned through the muck.
My hands felt for stones with substance.
My hands felt for stones with sharp edges.
I let myself go limp.

He yanked me up.
I swung behind me.
A crack of stone on skull
punctuated the morning air.
He let loose, stunned,
blood dripping from his temple
and slid beneath the surface of the lake.

I held him there, under the water
until his bubbling ceased, thinking
he’d become part of the lake, and
nourish its fish with his blood.

This prose poem is my first contribution to Open Link Night at dVerse The Poet’s Pub.

Process Notes:
The first draft of Fish Food was constructed from an intense prompt during a writer’s workshop I attended two years ago. The prompt was delivered an image at a time as we were writing, and the story unfolded from each image. The prompt was designed to explore Jungian archetypes. The images included key, forest, cup, bear, and body of water. The person who delivered the prompt had us close our eyes, and paint each new image into our piece mentally before writing. I revised this piece last summer, but still felt it was unfinished. I cut about 20% tightening it up today. This may be the final draft…but who knows? It just might beckon again some day.

42 thoughts on “Fish Food

  1. I thought this a true story, so real, in a poem, but it was an exercise for a writers’ workshop…I would like to attend such a class…though not sure everyone had such a powerful response. I think this is finished, but I am not you. Very intense, very real, excellent.


  2. Fantastic winding narrative with so much richness in it… I think you used all of those images with great skill. Light and dark at the same time is difficult to do, and when you call it “intense”, you’re quite right.


  3. Very different, very exciting. Nothing forced or artificial. I admire the directness in this piece and your ability to sustain that throughout the story.


  4. Many levels here. Paying 20 years for self-defense. Thank goodness times have changed. The tie between the jailers keys and the bear, wonderful. Fabluous, riviting tale. Throughly enjoyed this piece.


  5. Wow…I don’t think I took a breath through the whole reading…..this is rivetting poetry…I have no idea about versifiying, prose, etc….IT DOESN”T MATTER!!!

    This is stellar! It speaks broadly and deeply and captivates the attention of the reader. One of the very best pieces I have read this week.
    Lady Nyo

    Amazing…dynamic, pulsing forward…and not for ninnies.

    This will haunt me all day…and that is GOOD!

    Brava! Now, I am curious (as does all good poetry do) about that key and is there Part ___ of this marvelous tale???

    You could chew on this biscuit for a week and not be bored.



    • Wow, your comments feel darn good. Thank you. Until now, I haven’t considered a continuation of the piece. Hmmm… I’ll let the idea percolate for awhile, and see if anything erupts. 🙂


  6. ..intensely moved… i am so impressed by how you were able to come with this.. you started in down, soft mood of reminiscing to a very tragic ending… i felt the emotions all throughout.. excellent! (i would prefer this to be in a novel…)


  7. This was amazing! Thank you so much for the share. The imagery was so very vivid, and the ending, unexpected, indeed. Well done! Loved it 🙂 I almost got the hint from the title and was wondering…are we going to go there…we did, and it was fantastic!


  8. Well, what a journey you take us on here! Imagine the key stolen years ago now falling from a tree.

    And geez, I was not expecting that chilling ending. That will stay with me — yikes.

    You are very good with weaving words into a tale. I will have to try one of those prompts one day, see what comes up.


  9. Brenda, this is some of your strongest writing. I don’t mean that “violence” equals “strength.” After all, there are myriad images of violence or just-missed violence here: the she-bear, the brother-sister fight.

    It’s the way you wrote it, the naming of the tree, the intensity of the encounter with the bear, the whoosh of the exhalation, the magic behind the key… and now we are left to wonder what treasure is really worth… 20 years in prison and knowing she killed her brother, albeit in self-defense.

    Powerful writing, my friend. Get this to right away! Amy


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