“The Fish that Halved Water” by Alycia Pirmohamed, from Arc’s 2020 Shortlist

The Fish that Halved Water

When dusk meets water meets the history of my eye, I walk
right into the shimmering body of a fish—and wait
for the river’s rinse and monsoon to become memory.

This is the landmark of ruins I have become: A woman
following every weave of coral reef in search of a true story.
It is already night and all I have learned is the past

is a version of this earth where few things have a name.
I glide my way through the anonymity of ghosts.
Listen, I expected the Atlantic to show me all that ruptured

when woman after woman after locust crossed an ocean.
There are too many ways to say canyon, but one day
I’ll hold all those distances in my mouth—

all the kilometers my longing has travelled.
In the middle of the night, I walk right into my dreams
and cluster with the other lost sisters of the moon,

our bodies blushing out from the forest’s velour.
In the middle of the night, I walk right into my dreams
and swim with the grass pickerel as they scissor through

my every plot of land. The thing about being halved
is that all the loose ends will sneak up on you, whether you’re
slicing zambarau, or dragging a toboggan up a hill

threading in and out of the evergreens as you climb.
There are too many ways to say cleave, but one day I’ll split
into myth and pass through the mouths of a hundred

generations, jaws hinged wide open for this story.
I am woman after woman after spooling woman, ensorcelled
by water that twins and fissures and halves into worlds.

Manahil Bandukwala on “The Fish that Halved Water”

“The Fish that Halved Water” takes the reader through a dreamlike, interconnected world. Through, intertwined mythologies and journeys, the poem’s narrator goes on a search through the ocean, through the forest, through moons and monsoons, ending on a linked thread of generations across generations.

Alycia Pirmohamed is the author of the chapbooks FACES THAT FLED THE WIND (BOAAT Press) and HINGE (ignitionpress). Her recent awards include the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, the CBC Poetry Prize, the Sawti Poetry Prize in English, the 92Y Discovery Poetry Contest, and the Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest in Poetry. Alycia received her MFA from the University of Oregon. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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