The Aquarium
Cassandra Howard

These are fish of the lake.  These are fish of the river.
This lake is of Canada.  This river is of Africa. I am standing
in Chicago amid the watery circus.  The animals are clowns,
aliens, monsters.  Each tank is a world.  I am in a building.
I must remember this as I wander through it. 
The animals are alive.  I have to believe so
because I stood long enough to observe their movements,
their breath, their struggle against the water’s gentle nudge
toward the living reef.  I imagine faces in rocks, plants.
It is a game to spot cricket-sized frogs,
the sandy bottom-feeder, rusty, flaking fish,
camouflaged predators unmoving in dark waters.

Moray eel, bright and long, a heavy, thick tongue at the bottom
of the tank, you will never look anything but monstrous, no matter
how gracefully you slip through your small sea with open mouth waiting.

A school of fish circle round and round in the tank
that is no bigger than my arms out-stretched,
and I cannot move out of the vision of their silvery halo.
Will they ever stop circling?  What else is there to do?

I see a fish in the swaying anemone, and there, a sea star, an otter.
The leafy seahorse blinks.  There is the life.

A turtle rests one leg on the head of another turtle, and they stay that way,
touching, as if unaware of their touching, then the turtle pushes off.