Eel

Eric Gansworth

                                        1I don’t understand this kindergartenassignment: “Draw Your Clan.”The three letters live in abstraction.A friend suggests mine looks like his, minuslegs, and that day I believe my clan isa species of amputee Snipes, birdsforced to fly the skies forever, and Iwonder if we are meant to symbolizeendurance or something beyondmy five-year-old comprehension.                                        2My mother explains we are not leglessbirds and if she had a more worldlyvocabulary she would have suggestedwe were ambiguous, not quite a fish,more than a water snake, but she sayswe are among the few. The last Tuscarora Eeldied out a generation ago, so we are leftOnondaga Eels among the Tuscarora,voiceless as well as legless.                                        3I find an encyclopedia photo,see jagged rows of razor teethin a mouth perpetually grinningand when I show it to her, she saysclans are a system to keep trackof families, so we don’t inadvertentlymarry our relatives, and that we have nomore affinity with eels than anyone elseon the reservation has with their animals.                                        4“If I threw you in the dike,” she says“you’d drown as fast as anyone else,” donewith this lesson. I remember older cousins,swimming between my legs, and suddenly I am rising,their hands grabbing my knees as my balls collidewith the backs of their necks, and they breakthe surface, toss me into deeper water, probablywatching to make sure I surface, after they’ve hadsome amusement at my struggle.                                        5In wet darkness, I imagine openingmy eyes and mouth, taking water in,filling my lungs, discovering gillslike Aquaman or Namor, the Sub-mariner.Knowing I had better odds of dying, face down,no voice to call out for help, I amnever quite brave enough to try it, not daringenough, even, to open my eyes when my face breaksthe stillness of river water contained.                                        6But I flip on my back, ears below the surface, listento mysteries, breathe shallowly at that level, and float,wondering what it would be like to glide the depthson fins, knowing if I were there, I would desirelegs and lungs, and then I fill my chest to capacity,and dive, loving and begrudging the ache I find there,the throbbing of my chest begging for release,and I swim back up, eyes still closed, wondering howlong it will take to find the surface again.

Feature Date

Series

Selected By

Share This Poem

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Print This Poem

Share on print

Eric Gansworth, Sˑha-weñ na-saeˀ (Onondaga), born and raised at Tuscarora Nation, works at Canisius College. He has published eleven books of poetry, prose, and visual art, most recently Give Me Some Truth (Scholastic, 2018).

Poetry

18-Jun

Chicago, Illinois

Editor
Don Share

Art Director
Fred Sasaki

Associate Editor
Lindsay Garbutt

Assistant Editor
Holly Amos

Founded in Chicago by Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. Harriet Monroe’s “Open Door” policy, set forth in Volume I of the magazine, remains the most succinct statement of Poetry’s mission: to print the best poetry written today, in whatever style, genre, or approach.

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.