351: Fish Heads

351: Fish Heads

351: Fish Heads

Fish Heads
by R.A. Villanueva

Yanked free at the gills from cartilage and spine,
these fish heads my mother cleans, whose bodies she scales, throws
all into salt water and crushed tamarind. At dinner she alone
will spoon out their eyes with her fingers,

suck down each pair as we watch. See, this is why the three of you
could never hide anything from me—as though these organs
brought her sight to be soaked through the tongue.
When I tell her that I have tried to make this stew from memory,

she warns, Don’t waste what should be eaten. Reminds me
of every delicate gift we have thrown away: tilapia stomach
best soured with vinegar, milkfish liver to melt
against the dome of the mouth. That after church,

a bucket of chicken soon became a blessing of wing gristle
and skin, dark meat no one else wanted to save. We refused
to taste her gizzards and hearts fried in fat, mocked
the smell of pig blood curdled on the stove, wished gone

her tripe steamed with beef bouillon and onion broth.
After my brother and sister push aside bowls of baby squid
in garlic ink, gag at my mention of ducks in their shells, boiled
alive in brine, my mother believes I was the only one to share

in such things. Which maybe means, she says, in some former life
you and I were seabirds or vampires or wolves.

"Fish Heads," by R.A. Villanueva, from RELIQUARIA by R.A. Villanueva, copyright © 2014 University of Nebraska Press. Used by permission of University of Nebraska Press.