Rajiv Mohabir



Blood and entrails Christmased

Ma’s green butcher’s block

at her first attempt to recreate

Aji’s specialty—how Aji, after

her husband drowned,

body picked by piranhas, went

to the trench with a stick

and disturbed the fishes nest

so they leapt from the water

straight into her basket,

I can hear her suck her teeth

and laugh to herself

“E rass go eat sweet,”

but my own living so far

from Ma and Guyana,

Ma froze her pan for me but

I didn’t want to eat this until

one night I had a dream

that I slipped my fingernail

underneath one plate close

to the base of the tail and pulled

it forward so all the non-scales

stacked exposing orange flesh,

I looked for the egg sac, whitish

and curry but found instead

that in the hassa’s mouth

a silver coin sparkled like four

drachma in the black water

to pay the temple tax, and prayed,

Oh, nourisher, oh ancestor-

fish, give me the courage

to charge from the water,

grunting, gulping air

when the water’s oxygen is low,

to hurl my plated body

at my attacker should

a person with a switch stir

the muddy river bottom,

my chest, a weapon in Greek,

Holplosternum, but the real miracle

Aji clung to, a secret

that Ma knew also,

was how to hide survival inside,

exactly where on the belly,

between the head and plates to insert

her ceramic knife, to cut

down and to push her fingers

into the macabre cavity and rip

from the meat gall, pancreas,

the Miocene lung-type vessels

and I know that somewhere inside

Ma’s heart some joy glints

from before the hurt

of the only other man’s house

she’d lived in, that Ma still

plays Anuradha Paudwal’s

cham-cham-chamke chandani

despite the dark trench

of her loneliness and isolation

from her family, this catfish

called hassar before in Guyanese

we dropped the “r” to stew

its sweet flesh with pumpkin

and I learned to re-love

this cascadoux because hassa

means laugh and that Aji

and Ma have been laughing this whole time

and that this laughing fish

is the avatar of bravery

like Aji and Ma who

without knowing where

trusted enough to live without

men in their nests.




Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son (Winner of the Kundiman Prize 2015, Tupelo Press 2017) and The Taxidermist’s Cut (Winner of the Intro to Poetry Prize 2014, Four Way Books 2016). To read more of his work visit www.rajivmohabir.com.