Elizabeth T. Chao

Waterlogged

When the aquarium closed, Franny lost her job.
Twenty-five years of living as a water mammal
SNAP! just like that. !10! Zipped
thick in her slick cetacean skin,
Franny flexed and thumped around town
looking for new friends and employment. !10! She hoped
what she observed in the tanks would pay off:
Freeze to discourage behavior.
Feed to encourage behavior.
Freeze. !10! Feed! !10! Freeze. !10! Feed! !10! Freeze. !10! Feed!
On a packed subway, no one offered
their seats to the elderly or disabled. !10! Freeze.
At the store, a child slapped his mother. !10! Freeze.
Then, he cried and apologized. !10! Feed!
Franny threw a fish at him.
At the crosswalk, a car sped through a red light. !10! Freeze.
Someone cut in front of her at the deli. !10! Freeze.
A young man held the door for her. !10! Freeze.
Or, is it Feed? Franny threw a fish at him.
The manager of the boutique said they would
call her back about the position.
Franny never received a call. !10! Freeze.
The clerk at the office said she was overqualified
for the job. !10! Another lie. !10! Freeze.
Thumping and flexing her body back home,
Franny gashed her chin on broken glass.
The paramedics arrived and discussed her
weight as if she weren’t present. !10! Freeze.
The firetruck arrived and the crew hoisted
her onto the rig as if she were furniture. !10! Freeze.
At the hospital, she was made to wait for hours. !10! Freeze.
Franny developed a cramp.
When the nurse signed Whale
on her discharge form, Franny felt nauseous.
She snatched the pen and signed
Franny next to Whale.
That night, Franny emptied her pockets
of day-old fish. She wrote in her journal:
I will no longer carry fish.

Elizabeth T. Chao received her BA in Comparative Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and holds nursing degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Nursing. She worked for several years as an oncology nurse in California before moving to Texas, where she recently earned an MFA in Poetry from the James A. Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
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