Fish Dying on the Third Floor at Barneys

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Fish Dying on the Third Floor at Barneys

The clothes are black and unstructured this fall,
                 enlivened
          here and there by what appears to be monastic

chic: a crucifix of vaguely Eastern prov-
                 enance,
          a cowl.  My friend, fresh out of drama school,

explains to me how starkly medieval woolens
                 were cut:
          few seams, to spare unraveling, the neck-

notch centered in a single length of cloth.
                 High season,
          maiden season at the uptown store, austerity's

a kind of riff in suede and silk.  Sumptuous
                 charcoals,
          lampblack, slate.  And lest the understatement

lose its edge, glaziers have installed
                 these fine
          aquaria, withing whose bounds, superbly

not for sale, not just at present, swim
                 the glories
          of a warmer world.  The sun

was always a spendthrift, wasn't it?
                 -- cadmium
          yellow, electric blue, and lines that parse

as eat-your-heart-out.  Nature's own
                 extravagance,
          and functional, in fins and tails.

But something's wrong.  The angelfish
                 near gloves
          and belts is on its side and stalled, grotesquely

heaving at the gills.  Says the
                 shopper
          to her boyfriend, "What's it doing?"

and she's horrified.  Frank
                 dying
          makes a fearful sign of life in here,

it puts the people off their food.
                 Your mother,
          said my father when I teased

her once, and nastily, Your mother always
                 liked
          to save.  And who should know

but he and I, who'd lived on her prevenient
                 thrift?
          He didn't say, Uncluttered

is the privelege of the rich these days.
                 Or: In
          a world of built-in obsolenscence, saved

means saddled with.  He said much later,
                 This
          (I held his hand) This is a bad

business.  Nailbeds blue, blue
                 ankles,
          dusky ears.  His mucus-

laden lungs and their ungodly labor.
                 Father,
          while there's air to breathe, I mean

to mend my manners.

From The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, by Linda Gregerson, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright 1996 by Linda Gregerson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.