The Boys in the Fish Shop


This one winds a string of plastic parsley
around the rainbow trout,
punnets of squat lobster and marinated anchovy,
the dish of jellied eels
in which a spoon stands erect.
He’s young – eighteen perhaps
with acne like the mottled skin of some pink fish,
and there’s gold in his ear, the hoop of a lure.
The others aren’t much older,
bantering in the back room,
that den of stinking mysteries
where boxes are carried.

The fish lie around all day,
washed-up movie stars
stunned on their beds of crushed ice.
The boys take turns to stare
through the wide glass window,
hands on hips, an elbow on a broom,
lost for a moment in warm waters until
Yes darling, what can I get you?
and their knives return to the task,
scraping scales in a sequin shower,
splitting parcels of scarlet and manganese.
Their fingers know a pound by guesswork,
how to unpeel smoked salmon, lay it
fine as lace on cellophane.
A yellow-haired walks past
and the boy looks up,
still gripping his knife, lips parting in a slack O.

from Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren, 2008), copyright © Kathryn Simmonds 2008, used by permission of the author.

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