My Husband and I Talk of Nursing Homes at the Shedd Aquarium

The great moray eel whips her head out 
of the cave, demon-faced, cursing, 
a prehistoric ghost. 

Even with the glass between us, you pull back 
from the glittering eye, the thirsty mouth, 
this spectacle of ruined survival. 

I want to say, yes, death comes like this
powerful-jawed and unrelenting—
to remind us, by contrast, how fragile the anemone is. 

            Watch how it waves, tentacle-bright.
            That kills, too. Just in brilliant color. 

Death always comes out stinging— 
bite & poison, eel or flower, 
disguised and hidden in the craggy reef. 

I want you to know I see the coral 
is the same color as the bedsheets 
at the nursing home, the same color 

as the scrubs of nurses who wipe your mother’s 
mouth and wheel her to Mass. And I want 
to say, yes, I, too, see her face in the moray’s—

the mouth gasping open and closed, 
the trembling jaw that spells mortal. 
We will all have our moment like hers,

we will all be spit out into that unfathomable blue. 
The cave’s invisible veil will float us 
into primordial sea. But until then, slip

            back into the darkness with me. Hold 
            my hand among all the glowing tanks,

all this breakable glass, hold me close 
in the water until the inevitable last.

Christine Butterworth-McDermott

Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s latest poetry collection is Evelyn As: Poems (Fomite, 2019). She is the founder and co-editor of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Her poetry has been published in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, Prime Number Magazine, and River Styx, among others.

Header photograph by Deborah Hughes
Header artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson

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