Michael Pielaet-Strayer

Saint Maria and the Barracuda

It was the light
winking from the crucifix
she wore on a chain around her neck
like a golden cinder
sparking in the calm blue sea—

the golden cross
flashing like a lure,
like the tailfin
of some struggling gilded guppy

drifting from her collar
shining in the shallows of the reef
where she snorkeled,
lost in the spell of the Caribbean:
the bouquets of coral
like bone flowers
and the white rumpling sand;
the spindrift motes of plankton
dancing like dust
in the myriad of sunbeams
piercing the cobalt silence—

when suddenly her hackles shivered,
despite the water’s warmth,
and she turned round
to see the great fish hovering before her.

There they floated,
snout to nose,
perfectly still,
like figures encased
in a globe of sapphire—

…………I was so scared,
…………but I knew if I panicked
…………the fish would attack.
…………So I said a prayer to Saint Francis
…………and I looked that fish straight in the eye
…………and I thought:
…………Do not bite me, fish;
…………I am not your prey.

—still, silent, weightless—
suspended in the blue,
inches dividing them,
woman and fish,
and she looked into the predator’s
round and amber eyes
and she watched the diffusion of the sun
across the bands of lavender
down its silver streamlined length.

She counted its sharp and jutting teeth.
She studied the rise and fall
of the spiny fins at its sides.
She wondered if it could feel
the thunder of her heartbeat
pulsing through the water—
if it sensed she was afraid.

The situation could go one way or the other.
They both knew it.

Then like a billowing gauze curtain
a sheave of light
undulated between them
like a signal
and the fish’s fins flapped
and Maria’s heart jumped
up into the cords of her throat
where she knew it would be torn to pieces,
by those beautiful jaws.

But the fish did not strike
but whipped round
transforming instantly
into a spear of radiance
sheening away
and with a last sweep
of its sharp recurving tail
dissolved into the sea

leaving Maria alone
in the glittering vacuum of its absence,
wondering, perhaps,
if that is what it was like
to meet a god.

© Michael Pielaet-Strayer

Michael Pielaet-Strayer lives in Monterey, California. His work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently The Avalon Literary Review, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature.

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