In the animal kingdom, among fish,
one father carries all of the laid eggs
in his mouth, sixty-five day starvation
to make that flexible, deep mouth a womb.
Such sacrifice, spitting them out at last,
following that fast with the daily chores
of parenting: to guard them while they feed,
to take them back into his mouth like God.
Those babies need to grow before something
hungry finds them. They need a place to sleep
safe enough to wake again to feeding,
watched carefully by their selfless father.
He’s a living prayer, that catfish who knows
each child as he opens his mouth for them.
Though every father has limits, and so
does this one, turning his back, one morning,
as they feed, swimming away while he still
knows them, before his children grow so large
he can’t tell them from what he hungers for.
If he forgets to flee, he will eat them.
Copyright 2021 Gary Fincke. Previously published in Virginia Quarterly Review and The History of Permanence, Stephen F. Austin University Press.
Gary Fincke has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry Magazine. He lives in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.