Scum Sucker Versions of Truth


My grandfather always kept fish
twenty or thirty swarming creatures
in a medium rectangle of water
When I was young I used to sit on the arm of his chair
lightly place my palm on the glass
watch them flip their fins back and forth as they glided through the water
Grandpa always had a rotating roster of species—
one month beautiful blue scales with yellow fins
complimented by orange gold fish
And the next something new when the weaker fish had passed through the sewer to their eternal resting place
But there was always one constant—
a large, ugly, lizard-like fish we called
the scum-sucker
ten times bigger than even the largest of the other creatures
It’s purpose: to eat the crud and slime that built up in the tank
To my eight-year old eyes it was terrifying, hideous
I begged my grandfather to get rid of it
he insisted it remain
in all its beastly glory
While all the other beautiful specimens swam by
he slowly lugged himself along the sides of the glass
Whenever he came near my palm I would screech and yank it away
Grandpa said he served a purpose
he cleaned up the mess all the beautiful fish left behind
the other fish might seem superior to my untrained eye
But it was the scum-sucker who restored balance to the fish tank

And I wonder, now,
over twenty years later,
how many times I’ve been the beautiful fish
and how many times I’ve been the scum-sucker

And you, beautiful fish whom I swam with for years
I wonder how long you will continue to captivate those outside the tank
and if they’ll ever appreciate the scum-sucking
so many did on your behalf
all the while being labeled
the ugly, clumsy, awkward ones
the ones
who clean up your mess

*This poem was originally written in 2009, and today I pulled it off the shelf, dusted it off, and decided to offer it up to you.  I hope you enjoy.


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