by Colleen Burner
*This poem was misprinted in our winter issue, 38.1, so we are re-printing it as part of our summer issue with the final line corrected.*
The fin is not the first thing that comes to mind. The first thing is teeth. Rows and rows; no roe involved; a row as in conflict; a row as in something intentionally planted as per seeds sown. The first thing in this instance though is the color of the skin on the belly exposed. A color of death.
A soupfin shark gets its name because people eat it. It is classified as a hound shark and it gets that classification because people consider hounds. Dogs on land are normal. Sharks in water found by people are then equivocated to dogs on land. When a soupfin shark gives birth it is to a litter of pups. This takes place outside. In this instance I am in a crowd observing this soupfin shark, a male marine biologist standing over this soupfin shark, the sun glaring at all of us. The sun thaws the soupfin shark. The sun draws blood (drink of my) and fluids from the soupfin shark’s body. This is educational. I can tell by the man wearing gloves. Children and their parents and grandparents, passive infants held by parents passing by. People walking behind the soupfin shark turning to see what is happening. The man makes a joke about bays and baying. As far as we as a collection of people know, a soupfin shark because people eat it. A person conquers, thinks: I have eaten this creature this is how I will refer to this creature as a thing can be eaten.
Eat of my flesh. Eat of my fish. Feat of my flesh. Fear of my flesh. Meat of my bless.
On the gurney which is a dining tray which is an operating table which is the cart of entrees and later desserts. The soupfin shark is served. Having spent the last nine months in a freezer, cooling, not moving and so further proving the theory that a shark not moving is a shark not living. This takes place outside. I consider the coincidence that in the time the soupfin shark has been dead someone has conceived, gestated, given birth and that the child given birth to spent those nine months in an ocean-like environment. Mammals, salt, and buoyancy.
The soupfin shark is examined: snout, teeth, dorsal fin, pectoral fins, tail fin, cloaca, claspers. An archaic meaning of cloaca is sewer because waste is involved and not because of the location of reproductive organs. If people had cloacae what would be different? Fewer in number and possibly more generous. A sewer is also a person who sews. A sewer wastes not (wants not); if left alone, becomes hermetically sealed. A seal also starts as a pup but has a body more agreeing with land.
The inside of the soupfin shark’s mouth looks like its outside. The skin and the teeth are made of the same substance. The scales are described as toothlike. You are all tooth. Inside and outside. A sharkskin suit is almost a sharkskin tooth, a sharktooth suit. When used as a decorative material or abrasive, being the same and opposites, sharkskin is shagreen, an untanned leather with a rough granulated surface. An untamed leather. This is the origin of chagrin. Rough skin. Baited and abraded. Much to one’s abrasive yet decorative material. Too much one’s sharkskin. The inside looks like its outside. The belly. Whitish, rubbery like new mozzarella. Something tapioca. Thick skinned gelatin. Sitting in a brownish red pool (drink) leaking from the inside. A wide berth of death.
Claspers. The sex organs, which fasten, hasten, look like a cross between carrots and a pair of pontoons, inflatable doll parts, springiness even in death. Body made of bounce-house, unjointed phalanges of the undercarriage. The points of scissors or spread tines, rubberized tumescence. Flotation devices of sap. Bounces off of me, sticks to you, etc. There is something labial in the claspers’ symmetry. A female soupfin shark has no external reproductive organs. We keep these like secrets. Possibly she can swim swifter. The man wearing gloves says smooth-helmed. Soupfin to nuts. The man, a marine biologist wearing gloves, uses a scalpel which is a steak knife which is a switchblade to tear the flesh apart starting at the cloaca. The marine biologist uses scissors with a blunt bent tip like a nose, a broken beak, a crooked weapon. Snipping through the flesh making wet sounds, finer than chewing and more supple than fabric. Wet rubber. More inflation. The way flesh sounds, but fleshk. Fleshk fleshk fleshk up to the throat and thus Moses parted the Red Sea and freed.
A body is broken. It is broken for you: in your stead. It is broken for you: as you requested. It is broken for you: because you could not. Body as: loaf torn by hands, or a shatterable thing, or bone crushed into muscle. The man standing behind the body does not say what will become of it after the demonstration.
When I say you I may mean you, I may mean people, I may mean sharks, I may mean me.
Around the snout are small bristles. Constant horripilation, the poetic of horrid. Hairs standing in autonomous skin. Where the shudder shows. A brush filled with shark bristles. Any bristles, hair brushing hair, the dead rearranging the growing. One animal grooming another, brushing up against, a sign of affection, if fleeting. The sparse bristles on my own chin, my human-bearding, the type women grow and seldom talk about. The mustache as a point of shame but the beard so lowly ways to eliminate it singularly cannot be advertised. A push too far into masculinity. The one that makes me think of women I have visited in nursing homes, with their swollen feet rising hard out of their shoes. White socks and pain and sparse beards; an effect of change in blood tides. Not so proprioceptive these whiskers are pointless but a whisker is also a single crystal of filament. Our faces erupting with crystals and kissing becomes hard. Notice the soupfin shark has no lips, only a mouth. Uncomplicating. Between the soupfin shark’s bristles, small pits filled with a viscous jelly to sense minute electric currents traveling through the water, emanating from the other sea creatures. Everyone contains some electricity, multitudes. Small flashes sharks know.
The soup course, the soup, of course. That fins could be made from soup. Liquid food found in liquid sea. A fin is an underwater wing. Genesis reports creatures of the air and creatures of the sea coming into being on the same day, gliding in their strange symmetry. You are in the soup. You are souped up. This is how. Bird’s nest, chicken, clam, duck, egg drop, mock turtle, oxtail, sharkfin you are not alone. There is a zoo simmering down; live stock. A man in a stock doesn’t boil, has his feet and hands locked in holes and he gets to keep them. A prize for the punished. Salt to taste. Salt is to taste as. Salt is to taste as flesh is to tear.
The gloved hands of the male marine biologist who is a butcher who is a coroner spread open the flaps of the soupfin shark’s wet rubber belly and the insides spill what the entrails entail. The guts is where the essence and instinct are. You have or haven’t got the guts. What people follow. A gut is a narrow passage and the soupfin shark stomach is a tube unlike the alimentary bag in a person. So gutted. The marine biologist busts the soupfin shark’s gut. Who laughs. Gurry, which is offal, which is all waste and decomposing and used as food at once. Awful, where the grit is. Guts is also backbone but the soupfin shark is cartilaginous, more similar to the skeleton of a human infant if one were to reach for equivocation. The human infant grows into bone but the soupfin shark remains swimming. Takes place outside. Each viscus rushes out to the crowd, an invasion. The breeze carries the smell of lobes and fishes back to the ocean. The stomach, the intestine, each arm-long lobe of liver reach out and glisten in the sun like flopping tongues of fresh quenched dogs.
A gummy shark, as the breed itself: defined as small and edible with rounded teeth used to crush prey; as a candy: what might be among a child’s first encounters with the animal, a bright blue and white thing made with gelatin, a protein derived from collagen; people derive gelatin the signified from horse hooves the sign. In the case of the gummy shark, one animal is made symbol from this sign; this is where these creatures converge. A horse becomes a shark becomes a human upon ingestion. The transference is sweet and sticks in the teeth.
Your heart is in your throat. A girl once told me this is what happens when you have a stroke. Not swimming but an interruption of blood, which is a more severe way of applying pressure; an ictus, which lends itself to the poetic stress. But this soupfin shark is the ultimate of relaxed, whereas my back is tense holding itself upright, whereas my hands are finding themselves gripping my knees, whereas I cannot look away from the soupfin shark body under the hands of the marine biologist. The hands which are shovels which are claws which are tools sever and pull back the clinging organs and expose the soupfin shark’s heart. Lodged like a pomegranate in the throat and if this fruit were to be so split its vegetal viscera would be hemmed in its own membrane and so spilling when realizing gravity. Where the spirit also lives. But of course not stuck in the throat, but residing between muscle and maw, wedged under the surface so it won’t move and cannot escape, float away. Pitched forward, the heel of my hand presses into the wavy chest muscle over my sternum, fingers drumming on my collarbone—this is how I hold myself —palm protecting the part ignored because it does not contain the heart-muscle (which is more centered than they say at first, and when it is explained as on the left side, no one says sinister or south paw, although a south-pointing paw is exactly what a diagram of my heart looks like), but the living body does not allow a cavity. The body of the soupfin shark, opened, becomes a vessel, which is also a ship, which is also a conveyance of blood, which is also a space for something holy.
The male marine biologist says, Often when a shark bites a human it is a mistake. Just getting a taste. This is how you discover what is, is not. In this sense there is a faculty, poor at distinguishing flavor. The man says, When we swim we sound like dying fish thrashing. This is how we attract. The tongue is also a meat but the soupfin shark’s lacks protrusion. Biting solves some of this, the problem of not being sure. Only a mouth. An honest mistake which is a target missed like the eye of a needle. The eye of the soupfin shark has an inner lid for protection and it is displayed to us like a window shade by the forceps like chopsticks like tongs like pincers by the marine biologist. Some kind of puppetry, a trick. Hiding from seeking.
I leave before the end, the fin.