national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Stones for Guppies

Toshi Casey  • 
American River College

Along the creek, July clung to our limbs

with clover-twined snapdragons.

Our plan was to dig a mudslide, strip to skin,

and “wrassle” with our bodies in backwater—

back then everything was a day like this: sun, water, skin,

Eugene and me, and a bed of stones for guppies.


We were busy in muddy excavation when it appeared,

a trace of peripheral green edging its shaft out of the plum dots.

Our response quick: I yelled—Snake!

Eugene’s shovel came down, hewed with a single thwap,

in a moment so quick it was hardly there

except for the snake, coiling in its throes.


I bent into it, scooped, held its cool body aloft

and thrilled at the last pulse of muscle in my muddied hands.

We eyed the bright bloom and each other.

Our seven-year-old chests surged with small discovery,

a communion with the irrevocable,


and I recall the crust of Gene’s face cracking to a grin

as the magnetic hum of what was done

sang between us and the approving snaps,

which nodded along the bank with a violet glee

when I threw the body in the water.


We whooped, Victory!

and dove in where all three of us bled to the current.

With newborn limbs, we floated up to face a world

that did not care what I felt on any day.

But Gene was the most freckled, skinny boy I ever saw naked

and the other body slid along behind us in the summer sun

on the sleek, soundless current of our wake.