My three children—ten, eight and six

counting down their ages—would explore

the Miocene cliffs in Southern Maryland.


We’d hunt for twenty-five million-year old

shark teeth along with ancient shells and bits

of bone in sand and clay and in the water’s ebb.


All timeless as memories. The Chesapeake Bay

hinted its salt in the air; didn’t sting like brine

from tears of failed marriages. My children—


the only thing precious from that.

They were always hungry for food

for relationships.


So I would cook up adventures

in a cliff top cottage with a screened-in porch.

I remember their wide-eyed faces


staring at the fish I bought from a man

on the dock—fresh bluefish still

flopping its broad, forked tail in the bucket,


the sharp edge of its dorsal fin swung

out of its groove as if a switchblade.

The bluish green under the fin, fading.


It quivered in my hands as I pressed

its belly. Carefully wrapped it in newspaper.

We climbed up the 100-foot high cliff


on the same crooked wooden steps we angled down

an hour before. When we got back to the cottage

they’d insist on watching me clean


the fish for supper. I said to them

always respect the life of another,

even the fish you have to kill to eat.


I didn’t pray much at the time,

but there was a moment of silence; the fish

on the cutting board, knife in my hand.


And the stainless steel sink prepared as an altar.

I had the kids turn their heads for a moment

while I quickly severed the head of that bluefish.


My youngest asked me if it went to heaven.

I said I didn’t know, that it wasn’t a pet.

Its eyes stared back: wet, black, glassy.


They fixed their eyes on the blood

washing past the single row of sharp teeth in its jaws,

and down the sink drain.


Their bites sharp as razors.

They can be pretty mean, I said, and

greedy, too, especially when frenzied.


After scaled and eviscerated, I sliced

the dark gray-blue flesh into steaks;

they shimmered under kitchen light.


I layered them in the bottom of the blue

porcelain pot with bay leaves and peppercorns,

parsley and a little dill; quartered onions,


green pepper eighths; a bottle of Beck’s beer

with foam, a splash of vinegar to seal the pores,

and a can of Italian plum tomatoes.


The pot clacked on the stove as the liquid

simmered. We spoke of joy, of sharing

even in that cottage, on those cliffs


with all their buried secrets. We had unearthed

some of them that day, not hidden as deep

as I thought.


I ladled the broth mixture over rice, and the fish.

All its blue gone, changed to soft gray.


John C. Mannone has work in The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. VII, Negative Capability, Agave, BlazeVOX, Tupelo Press, Raven Chronicles, Poetica Magazine, Synaesthesia, 3Elements Review, The Baltimore Review, Rose Red Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Tipton Poetry Journal, Prairie Wolf Press Review, The Pedestal and others. His collection, Flux Lines, was a semi-finalist for the 2014 Mary Ballard Poetry Chapbook Prize. He’s the poetry editor for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex, and an adjunct professor of physics and chemistry in east TN colleges. His work has been nominated three times for the Pushcart.