Home > Mutating the Signature > Miracle Fish

Miracle Fish

February 2, 2009

Place the cellophane fish in your palm
and wait. Let him warm to you,
find your cradle, the curve of your inner
nature. His actions will tell your fortune.
A moving head means jealousy,
a finicky tail means indifference.
And so you unfold through all his stirrings.

He bucks and twists in my hand,
nearly falling over himself to get me right.
But every time I open either palm
to this red minnow, he turns a different story.
Today, I am tail over mouth: fickle.
Yesterday, his fin-flick called me passion.
Sometimes late at night, he flips
all the way and claims that I am false.

I want to know how seven seconds
and a sliver of head-shop plastic
know me so well when my own
husband holds me all night, his whole body
cloaked over mine, his whole body absolutely
still? According to the key, his silence says
I am the dead one.
So tell me, Miracle Fish,
how much of me is approximately true,
which scarlet fortune do I believe?

by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell

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Process notes

Cofell and Huston have written collaboratively off and on since 2000. They have worked mostly in Exquisite Corpse by email as well as in person but have also experimented with assignments controlled around a theme. Perhaps most successful has been allowing each other to write within abandoned poems and allowing this process to create something new. Because they value friendship and respect each other as writers, they’ve established some working rules that seem to eliminate potential problems. For example, they agree to revise only their own lines and abandon a poem that doesn’t seem to be working. Rather than feeling that their own voices have been muted by writing together, they feel as if they’ve created a third voice that is quite freeing and fun.

Inspired by one of those trinket-shop, cellophane fish, this poem is the result of Karla writing a poem that was stuck. She wasn’t sure where to go with it and had more or less given up. So she “gave it away” to Cathryn who wrote inside the poem and around it, adding her own flourishes and took it somewhere new. Then we looked at it together, tweaking line by line, but only making changes to which we both agreed. We think the finished piece is greater than the sum of its parts.

  1. February 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Wonderfully imaginative. The reading made the experience even more delightful. How nice that one can help the other with a stuck poem – you are a great duo.

  2. February 3, 2009 at 5:18 am

    I love the last stanza and the idea that we are better read by a neutral piece of plastic than by flesh and blood.

  3. terry
    February 12, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    I love this, particularly the way it builds to multiple ironic contrasts

  4. Linda
    February 13, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Bravo! Thanks for the poem and the collaboration notes, too. What a great use of abandoned poems! I’m picturing a Cofell/Huston co-authored book of poems. . .

  5. Sara
    January 27, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Gorgeous poem, Karla and Cathyrn. So many of the lines are a true surprise. Congratulations on the Pushcart nomination!

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