Amy Scattergood

The Museum Fish

Two suns roll from one end of the post-Soviet sky to the other, down the violent chasms of Chechnya and Chernobyl’s clicking iodine deserts, down Stalin’s rusted locks and levees, the Volga clogged with trash cans and army boots, to the Caspian’s lapping chemical tides. Illegal dories shuffle along the coastline. Birds stall in the ionized air. Bored police boats lazily monitor the Kazakh mafia while the smugglers lower their inchoate dreams on nylon strings into the water. From his childhood rowboat, the caviar thief checks his snast lines, reaching underwater for the extra weight, then pulling up the hook, disengaging the fish from what’s left of its life. He wraps the fish in a towel, carries it home. There, he cuts her up on his kitchen table, mixes the eggs with salt and takes the roe to his Ikryonoye dealer for a thousand rubles. For this, he earns a month in the raw dirt projects: the archaeology of swing-sets, the blown steppes, the hard currency of Kalashnikovs and abandoned tractors. And further away, in Moscow, an electric pump beats where Lenin’s heart used to be, maintaining a constant humidity. Waiting for the next ice age at the bottom of the world, the sturgeon shift on their tectonic plates, swimming slowly around underwater systems of wire and string, through red squares, yellow stars, blue museums.

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On Visiting My Mother in the Hospital and Not Finding Her There

In Chinese poetry the reader may guess
as to the whereabouts of the absent hermit.
It’s a conceit: A walking stick and an empty bowl.

My recalcitrant mother is not a poem.
She’s been sent home in her private uranium cloud,
which life or half-life we don’t know yet.

In Chinese poetry what the reader doesn’t know
is more important than a handful of rice
which is washed and washed of its skins.

So the hermit disappears. The rice is eaten.
But the uranium never really leaves us.
The clouds of spinning isotopes are as thick as heaven.

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Fugue in D Minor with Dissociative State

  1. Exposition: Abandoned car, dirt road, collapsed coat, single shoe on the shoulder. Her husband memorizing the horses in the sky while police detectives lift her fingerprints from the wheel and the wind lifts the last of her perfume.

  2. Counter subject: For days helicopters wheel above the tire tracks, the police tape.

  3. Episode: April, 1957. Her father shook her awake. Smoke from the stairwell, her brothers’ footsteps hard on the narrow steps, no mother, no baby, repeating sirens down the Philadelphia streets. And in the emergency room, her father held her hand for the last time. Diagonal light. Ammonia and coffee cups. There was nothing to read.

  4. Middle entry: Two weeks later, the helicopters fan the canyon, the hotel parking lot, the cliff, the contents of her purse in the repeating tide. A flotilla of lipsticks.

  5. Example & Analysis: In 1926, Agatha Christie went missing for 11 days in the English countryside. Empty car, strewn belongings. They found her living in a hotel registered under a different name. A vacation from herself: No guns, no libretto.

  6. False entry: At a gas station off the PCH 24 miles north of Santa Barbara, the night manager reported a woman fitting her description buying coffee at 1:30 on the morning of October 17. A man’s jacket, jeans, pretty enough that he remembered: The passenger seat, just change, thank-you.

  7. Stretto: No, I didn’t mean it that way. She had a glass of wine with dinner, sometimes a little more. We were fine. Everything. Was. Fine.

  8. Final Entry: When they found her, there were sonatas inside her head. They hummed faintly, like static, like incoming weather, like television. She didn’t know what they were. The world was flat: A Nebraska road, the horizon, a bed sheet.

  9. Coda: As he drove home to the city, down the coast and then inland through the desert wind farms and the geography of the moon, his sirens mute, lights off, he thought: Retrograde amnesia, aphasia, maybe PTSD. He thought: The headlights are a different color these days. He thought: What if tomorrow I wake up and I’m gone too.

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