Melancholy Hyperbole

Poetry about longing.

The Dysfunctional Catholic Girl’s Guide to Lenten Meditation

I’m going to start off by thinking about fish, fertile ground, I think, for thinking about life. Fish have a lot going for them metaphorically and spiritually. They are the early symbol of Christianity, for instance. They are also a symbol of the painful camping trips I took with my stepfather, whom I always called “Uncle Alex,” a man who loved to fish.

But Uncle Alex wasn’t much of a Simon Peter. He was more of a Peter Griffin with frustrated artistic aspirations. Maybe if he weren’t stuck taking care of me he could have been a Peter Tork or Peter Lorre or even a Peter Paul Rubens if he thinned out his mustache a bit. Because the alcohol was always my fault.

Uncle Alex drank like a fish. Not like a salmon, all healthy pink and fit-sleek, swimming upstream in black Under Armours, but more like a middle-aged trout with high triglyceride levels, binge eating chip dip on a corduroy La-Z-Boy. A rowdy fisher-of-men bidding me welcome with food or compliments or even cleverly worded put-downs.

I used to count on him. Now I count calories, syllables, insults, hairs on my chin, the years ’til my death and the sins on my conscience. Math is pretty trustworthy–not at all slippery, like a freshly caught sunfish in an eight-year-old’s hand, desperate to be set free. Or relationships. Or moral decisions, or being a kid who was cheated out of a life and who now needs to figure out something better.

Mistakes in this respect are made constantly: the only constant, it seem, at least on bad days. Some days, despite the best of efforts, it seems that every other fish is out to get you and it’s finally time to just throw in the fish. Although this idea is rather fishy, they will tell you in Al Anon meetings: stinking thinking, they call it. But I don’t go in for those Twelve Step-eroos…they are not at all fluid or fun of fulfilling, like fish racing upstream or surfers riding the pounding, salty waves all gasping and risk–like Reality, which reels us in at every moment.

Forget about numbers, I say. One Step, Two Step, Red Step, Blue Step. To Heck with this Step-Seussian Non-Sense! There must be something or someone bigger than some finite set of rules: The Big Fish I have been longing for.

These days, during Lent, I go in for fish fries or just stopping at McDonald’s for the #6 “Filet-O-Fish” meal, because I once met the man who invented the fish.

He was dressed up in a doctrine, in the darkest corner of the coldest, deepest part ocean, where there was no more air to breathe and not another living fish in sight. He invited me into his spacious being and gave me good food to eat and a gently lit lantern by which I could read myself.

My grasp on him is still quite slippery, though. I still take the bait of the Peter Pan types, bad boys who, like Uncle Alex, can’t seem to grow up. But most nights I find I can sleep easy on his ocean floor, warm and well-fed by the sea vents, like a Quite Right Fish in her very own bowl. Pass me that plastic treasure chest pillow, please. Zzzzz.


stephaniesStephanie Sarwal was once a tax attorney who wrote creatively (and surreptitiously!) in between client projects. She is now a mother of five who writes creatively and only slightly less surreptitiously in between diaper changes and carpool runs in and about the suburbs of DC. Her latest poem, “He Who Hides,” is scheduled to be published in the Spring Issue of Clockwise Cat.

Categories: Poetry

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