national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

teaching goldfish how to breathe

Xandria Phillips  • 
Oberlin College

vets have successfully installed frog lungs
into a goldfish/ I read this news on a blog
today/ the picture of her/ the fish a close up


on her sapped fishface/ a syringe plunged to its neck
in her gills/ it is said that she survived
two hours out of water in a humid chamber/


in these times when the definition of survival
is hinged upon whether or not we breathe
I cannot help but decide that I was never meant


to survive/ when the doctors gave me my lungs
I was slapped for good measure and sent to live
out my land-locked existence/ in school a boy spit


on my neck/ perhaps he sensed my dehydration/
a girl asked me if I had ever been wet/ to which I had no response/
the Cuyahoga River overtook main roads/ flushing tiny organisms


into the streets/ my first day in the land of gold I dipped
one foot into a pool constructed for white people/
that would be the closest I would come to the sea


and a week later went back on my word/ holding
my breath as my toes tasted brine/ my lungs collapsed
then/ it is said that I survived twenty years out of water