The One That Got Away, A Fish Story – Andrena Zawinski

(homage to Elizabeth Bishop)

This man sporting a kooky cooly hat, hotfoots across the intersection at Webster and 8th in Oakland, California’s Chinatown. Wearing oversized, day-glow flip-flops and pushing a shopping cart zigzagging and grinding on a bent wheel, he flashes a candle-toothed smile at me in my car where I am stuck at the intersection on a green. He seems clownishly comical to me, yet unselfconscious the way children are in the sheer abandon of a first wobbly bike ride after a parent lets go.

Stuffed in the child seat of the cart, his pink plastic shopping bag sports a red blaze of calligraphy: New Sang Chong Fish Market. I squint my eyes, straining my neck forward toward the car’s windshield, watching the bag oddly bulge and pulsate. The man maneuvers the cart against the light with a tight grip on the swollen bag, cart still bumping along in the struggle against an uncooperative wheel and headed right toward my fender.

My impatience escalates, and as I finally hit the horn hard, he loses hold of the pink bag. A Coho propels upward in flight, as if on a blast of upstream air, its pointy teeth and kype fixed in a cartoonishly terrified grin. As gravity takes hold, the fish hits the street in a thud, head and tail thwacking the red and gold bricks of the crosswalk.

The man, one hand still hanging onto the cart and the other the empty sack, scoops up the fish with the plastic bag, only to have it slip quickly from his grasp to the sidewalk. The horde of shoppers in the crosswalk, equally impatient with him, politely circumnavigate his cart clutching their own bags stuffed with staple bundles of bok choy, spring onions, bitter melon, boxes of moon cakes for the upcoming festival, some shaking their heads at the antics of the man and his fish.

His fish, barely moving on a bin of garlic and ginger at Wing Fat’s – in a surprisingly acrobatic last twist and flip – slides to the walk’s soapy rainbow puddle and off the curb and down the storm drain. Gone. Another one that got away. as if on some improbable journey of spawn, bright silver flanks undulating. Gone, now less afraid of extinction by hook, line, and sinker than by the pink plastic bag.
Andrena Zawinski

Andrena Zawinski’s latest full poetry collection, Something About, received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. She founded and runs a Women’s Poetry Salon in the San Francisco Bay Area and is Features Editor at Poetry Magazine.com. Her work has appeared in Pacific Review, Rattle, Slipstream, Santa Clara Review, Quarterly West, Progressive Magazine and others. She is also an avid shutterbug and dabbles in flash fiction.