The mule that sat in our living room
was good at hoovering.
When he got to his loose-lipped action
you had to wait
to call your friends or watch TV
if you wanted to hear a thing.
But to get help without asking
is as close as one can get to paradise
this side of death.
Remember the time you tried to ride the mule?
From the beginning I was like no don’t.
I hid my face in my ginger ale and
you heel-toed your way over like a movie star
or woman would. That’s when we realized
the mule could sleep with his eyes open
standing up steadily purring
and if you ascended his back
like a cliffside it might startle
him into bucking the TV or your face in.
Then there was the time the whole family
was over for dinner and we put on a show
for the camcorder ducking and crawling
under the belly of the mule.
Our father had a pacifier plugged in his mouth
but that was just a gag too.
Of course we had to get rid of the mule eventually.
You loved that doll so much
its pink docile body smelled like cherries.
You put her down for a nap
the mule lowered his mighty head
closed his jaws around her soft belly, like a cat carries its young.
When I told our mother at first she didn’t know
whether I meant the doll or you.
Take the mule outside to the widest of rivers for a drink.
The rope across the river is covered with peanut butter.
The mule can only
lick so far before he has to wade
into the stream and halfway through the rope
licking nothing under his hooves except unknown depths
he will again forget in his hunger and chomp down.
HOW I WAS BORN A FISH
somber placoid eyes
hemmed maw’s seams
part to swallow motes the
growth of a cambered peel
— this was my fin
have you seen that science fiction film
you know the one with the little brain
with feet eyeballs arched eyebrows and
quite a distinct laugh he lives in the ocean
inside a submarine or robot a bubble yes
the brain has someone else drive to deal
with shifting gears he listens to Journey
eats pot roast surrounded by girls in tall
boots with big hair I mean really big hair
do not underestimate the grandeur of their
hairdos these broads spindly arms draped
around the brain their boyfriend as a tongue
drives the bubble across the ocean floor the
brain thoughtfully plans to conquer mankind
biological sonar slices
thin salty sandwich tremors
these count for my thoughts
appetite for sound plays spoons
cups peripheral acts of kindness
to my palate echoes of others
putter my fine-tooth gills awake
manly men at the helm of a ship search for
the remainders of other ships sunk down
below a big TV eye blinks and blinks until
it pops a red vein a signal of something other
than a submarine or shark Nic Cage or Kurt Russell
says, “look, a code being sent to us from down below”
everyone nods in agreement but no one can crack
the code (not even Sean Connery) it is complicated
the combination to a safe in another language
a series of clicks and whirligigs and we watch
the film mouths full of popcorn we are laughing
at the film from our futons and basements
because we know the code was created by the
brain who in his bubble at the bottom of the
ocean is seriously planning to conquer mankind
tendons yawn open
my translucent body
yet I am all the way down there
a noose tugging me upwards
the spurs of my vertebrae assurance
I am finally turning into something else
the manly men grit their teeth open their
lungs steady their suspicions and glee await
the scent or sound or dream or thing that is
chortling toward the water’s surface and
“goddammit, we’ve got it!” they prepare to
cheer just as they fall asleep hypnotized by
the code coming from down below and as
their ship sinks joining the other ships that
have sunk we too fall asleep on futons in
basements and that was how the brain in
the bubble motoring along the bottom of
the ocean managed to conquer mankind
Robyn Read is a freelance editor living in Calgary, Alberta. She was the Acquiring Editor of Freehand Books from 2009-2011, and she sat on the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs Board of Directors from 2010-2012. This past winter she taught Canadian Dystopic Fiction at the University of Calgary, speculating with her students the various ways the world might end.