“The Fishwife’s Tale” by Judith Small

Seduce fishwife with bigger question mark.

Subject line, spam email 

So they came to me, one by one, that 

early market morning, each man hoping to take

me by surprise as I was setting up, my broad

hands wrist-deep in ice. 

++++++++++++++++++++Don’t waste my 

time, I told them, tossing my long

eel-shiny hair just so they could

see what they were missing,

knotting my sealskin apron – dark

as a patch of night sky – snug over my 


+++++Still they would

clamor and fawn and insinuate, still

question, always question, where do we

come from? where are we going? why oh

why oh why? and what is to be done?

++++++++++++++++++++++++Each question

bigger, harder, probing,


another question, 


crybaby doubt.

++++++++++After a while I stopped

listening. They would get 

bored, I figured, or sleepy, step

out for coffee while I had

buckets to tend, whole deep tubs flashing

anchovies sudden as daybreak, sardines

teeming silver at the brim, littlenecks

nudging the bucket’s


++++and thumb-length

mussels, hundreds of 

mussels to scrub, beards to clip, black shells clacking their single

castanet question


not why not why not

++++++++++++++over my

dripping, glistening hands.