Bad Survivalist: “On Catfish,” a poem by Ryan Keeney


At nine, Dad taught me how to gut a catfish. Thick-skulled, even out of water they are survivors, known to flop and thrash for hours before succumbing to suffocation.

If catfish could speak what kind of wretched pleas would drift from their cavernous mouths?

The first step: nail the catfish to a board. The nail is driven through the dense-muscled head, even when the hammer is true and the nail sinks deep, the catfish will keep gasping.

Stinking tongues and rotten purple gums, they wheeze their death songs with fetid breath.

Then, cut two slits behind the head. Jerk the flaps back to expose the white dimpled flesh, the bulbous purple heart, the golden yellow of the liver, a fool’s foie gras.

Feculence, their taste is gentle, loamy.

I always felt bad for the catfish. I stroked their slick, slime-ridden flanks and my skin puckered at the papery rasp as Dad’s knife slid through the belly. Their mouths open and shut, open and shut, as if to beg.

More man than boy, more man than boy. You are more man than boy.

Ryan Keeney is a writer with forthcoming poetry in 2River and Third Wednesday.


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