Theory of mythmaking

I don’t want the way the fish
looks at me as I hook my finger

through its jaw, pry the surfaced bone
from flesh. Its eyes moon-white with fear

or judgement – as though its fate
was still undetermined, as though I

could put down the knife. I scrape harshest
around place the tongue should be, remembering

what my mother taught me: like blood,
the softest meat is kept where we need it

most. I don’t want to believe anything
can be too small for mercy. Under the right

blade, any mouth becomes a wound – some
are always hungry, nosing through the dark

for the vanishing heat of some soft dead
thing. What could be more honest than this? Before

I was hungry I was witness, which is to say
the bleeding never stems, only displaces

some deeper history. The only fate I want
is one that can’t be taken back. In this temporary

light, watching my mother scalp the fish eyes
from our kitchen counter, I could be any god

or animal. I don’t need to be good, I need
to be perfect and terrible: a hole in the air

in the shape of a body. Who among us can say
we have not called this home? Watch me

step out from the light, gild my eyes
with dead scales, let the bare night

break me into the kind of wonder
that strikes only once.

Artist’s Statement
This poem begins with a bit of a lie, because as far as I can remember I’ve never cleaned or otherwise helped prepare a fish, though I do have other memories of working with my mother in the kitchen. Just as fictional events are often used in prose to explore real ideas and emotions, I find this approach fruitful in poetry. I wrote this piece while thinking about ways power and powerlessness manifest in everyday life, and how we constantly (re)invent ourselves in the face of the imperfect nature of memory and inherent unknowability of the future.

The phrase “some are always hungry” is borrowed from Jihyun Yun’s published collection of the same name.

KJ Li is an LGBT+ Chinese-American raised in central Texas. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she takes walks to podcasts and misses the family cat. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lumiere Review, perhappened mag, Cobra Milk, and others. More works can be found at kjli.carrd.co.