Bahrain Fish-Market: A Random Inventory

Ocellated waspfish. Gulf dottyback.
Black-eyed Trevally, red snapper, blue-tongue Jack:
From where the loudest sound is a sprat
Chomping bits off coral, they’re hauled up
Into an afterworld of thuds and thwacks,
Buried in air, instead of angels
Scaleless four-finned monsters wielding cleavers,
Gabbling prices across white-tiled flats.

Such anomalousness once laid aside,
A feast for the eyes as well as stomach! –
Proving camouflage can be psychedelic
The Picasso triggerfish, for instance;
A lapis and yellow Anafiiz whose tints
An old master might covet; Sultan Ibrahims
Compared to which even a Matisse dims.
That juggernaut of the shallows, the
Dusky-brown droop-mouthed grouper
Sports orange specks. Outglinting rainbows,
The silver-sided turquoise-striped Sohal
Like some light aircraft shows a logo
Of brilliant ochre. ‘Broad crossbars,
Transverse bands, blotches, borders
...’ –
A zoologist, listing them, turns poet-
cum-art-critic. The spectrum’s stretched:
‘Ventral part of head and lips deep scarlet;
along the body two series of jet-black dots
plus a pale caudal peduncle; dental plate
salmon-pink, the chin a lavender grey

As if Aladdin were, in fact, a diver,
There’s no shortage in shapes here either:
Bearded scorpionfish, blunt-nosed Pompano,
A horned zebra sole, some spotted grunts;
Species named after spade, cutlass, needle;
A long-tail carpet shark of whose lethal
Brainlessness an arms manufacturer
Would feel proud; rays that come equipped
With electric kidneys able to deliver
A two hundred and twenty volt shock;
Weird yet authentic double-ended pipefish;
The poisonous puffer; big-eyed scad...
These flounders are as flat as photocopies
From before angles had been invented,
Inks smudged, glimmers fading. Now add
A sex-and-colour shifting parrotfish –
Hermaphrodite champion of the oceanbed –
And the most feverish surrealist seems prosaic;
Epithets dangle like a severed net...

Martin Bennett | Mudlark No. 12
Contents | Tropical Stopover