Fish or Like Fish

By Joel Brouwer b. 1968 Joel Brouwer
He startled to see a statue of blind   
justice really did loom over the courtroom. But   
remained determined to scorn symbolism.   
She needed a quarter to call her lover—
the docket was full, she’d be late for lunch—
and he gave her one. It was not a taunt,
acquiescence, wager, or plea. It was   
a quarter. The fact that they had done this—
even this!—together and cordially,
late nights at the dining room table with   
a bottle of cabernet, sharp pencils,
A Love Supreme, and an “E-Z Workbook”   
from the well-reviewed—the fact that they’d read   
reviews!—Don’t Pay an Attorney! series,
as if they were learning Portuguese or
origami, was not “as if” or “like”   
anything, but just that, a fact, and not   
to be pressed for further significance. This   
was part of the agreement. They filled out   
the forms. Asked lawyer friends for language.
Made stacks of books and towels. Cooked dinner
together, said “excuse me” passing   
in the hallway, and even remembered
each other’s mother’s birthdays. As if. Not
as if. Waiting for their case to be called,   
they got hungry. The bailiff pointed toward   
the snack bar in the basement, which was packed
with a class trip from the school for the blind.
In illo tempore such a gift would have   
caused them to turn to each other in love
and wonder. Now, no. They didn’t even   
look to see. She asked for fish sticks, and he   
wondered if fish sticks were fish or like fish.   
The children chewed their chicken fingers   
with calm deliberation, staring out at what   
they saw, then conveyed their limp paper plates   
with startling grace to the hinged swinging mouths   
of the trash cans which swallowed everything   
offered saying THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Source: Poetry (December 2005).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

December 2005
 Joel  Brouwer


Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, poet Joel Brouwer is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Syracuse University. Brouwer is the author of several collections of poetry, including And So (2009); Centuries (2003), a National Book Critics Circle Notable Book; and Exactly What Happened (1999), winner of the Larry Levis Reading Prize from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has also published several chapbooks. Brouwer has been . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Love, Separation & Divorce, Activities, Relationships, Eating & Drinking, Men & Women, Realistic & Complicated

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.