To My Daughters, For Fred and Alaska

I should have known better
than to take the two of you
by the sketchy carnival booth
at the Crawdad Festival
with its bowls of muddy water

but I paid three dollars
for you to toss ping pong balls
and try for a prize, a stuffed lizard
or a tie-dyed bear, I thought.

If I’d known then that the prize
was a live goldfish,
I’d have hurried you past
to the lady painting faces
or to buy a funnel cake
or to ogle again at the table
full of gemstones and old fossils

but you plunked the ball
into the bowl on the very first try
and we came home
with two little fish in plastic bags.

We spend a hundred dollars
on a twenty gallon tank
and a bag of tiny black gravel
flecked with sparks of neon
and a fairytale aquarium castle
and pretty little plants

and twenty four hours later
Sir Fred and Alaska
were belly up in the water,

too much ammonia
or too much stress, maybe,
I tried to tell you
that it wasn’t your fault,
that we didn’t know
how long they’d swam in circles
in those ugly little bags.

You cried and cried
and I buried them
in the back corner of the yard
behind the rotting camper
that’d been there since I was kid

and then I stood beside you
for a little funeral for little fish
who never had a chance,
marveling how your little bodies
held hearts the size of whales.

— Adam Kamerer

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