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April is Poetry Month!  To celebrate the occasion, I decided to take to the internet and repost the first flounder theme poem I could find.  Without thinking about it, I assumed that the flounderists of the poetry world would share my (zoology/ecology) perspective on flatfish.  How mistaken I was! The first poem I discovered was “Flounder” by Natasha Trethewey, the story of a mixed-race girl going fishing with her aunt. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the secrets of the deep, the worldwide ecological crisis, or the way that the taxonomical diversity of the pleuronectiformes represents the interrelated family structure of all life (or does it?).  The poem does not even have to with floundering, camouflaging oneself, or being baited (or does it?). What we have instead is a poem about racial identity and the way the facile categories of the world permeate our self-identity and all other aspects of existence to a granular level (we don’t even see the poor dual-natured flatfish taken off to the frying pan…although it is somewhat implied).

The lovely poem does however illustrate what is wonderful about poetry—how black and white words become a doorway which allows us to slip into another person’s skin and take an unfiltered sip of their weltanschauung.  The evanescent phenomena of a fishing trip become a search for something deeper.  Yet successfully catching a flounder only provides additional muddled categories.  Hooking the juxtaposed fish leads to more beautiful ambiguity…

Flounder

BY NATASHA TRETHEWEY

Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
You ’bout as white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.

Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,

circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.

This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.

She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up

reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black.

The other side is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.

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