An Animal Growing

“Here is the secret: the end is an animal growing by
accretion, image by image, vote by
vote.”
—Jorie Graham

Voracious carnivores, flathead catfish feed primarily on other fish, insects, annelid worms, and crustaceans. Submerged logs, other debris form their nests. The male builds the nest and fans the clutch. The size of the clutch varies proportionally to the size of the female. An average of 2,640 eggs per kilogram of fish are laid. Young flatheads are cannibalistic, and therefore cannot be used in fish farming.

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To eliminate any fishy taste, simply soak the catfish in milk for an hour before frying. Bread with seasoned cornmeal, and fry filets in batches. The catfish are done when most of the bubbling stops and they begin to float.

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Stepdad drops the filet into cornmeal. The air is a flat sand. In the cornmeal-mist I can just make out the sharpness of his nose, a contrast to the rest of his pudgy body. How can he think about eating? Mom insisted he not let me watch, but I watched. I saw him drag our German Shepherd into the treeline and put the magnum to her ear. When he came back to our sobs, he said it’s a bullet or a vet bill, and I’ve got a bullet. I bury her rock by rock as the fall comes.

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Although the concept of catching fish with only the use of an arm in the water is simple enough, the process of noodling is more complicated. The choice of catfish as prey is not arbitrary. Most noodlers have spotters who help them bring catfish in, either to shore or to their boat; noodling in pairs is considered important for safety. Noodling partners often form long-term partnerships.

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I cannot eat the fried fish. Stepdad says I will eat it or I will go sit at the bottom of the pond. There, I spot a carp munching pond grass. He spits a pile into my lap, and I dine.

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I think I am drowning but I can hear him laughing and mom is also laughing so I must not be drowning but resisting the fun of it. Stop kicking, I can hear him say through seventeen miles of water. The bitch hit me in the nuts. Mom pulls me out of the water by my foot. Watch what you do with those things. You could really hurt him.

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The average punishment for rape is. The average punishment for molestation is. The average punishment for imprisonment is. The average punishment for. I’m probably making all of this up.

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To avenge is "to get revenge" or "to take vengeance;” it suggests the administration of just punishment for an immoral act. Revenge seems to stress the idea of retaliation a bit more strongly and implies real hatred as its motivation.

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You would think that all catfish live in the deepest part of the water, but flatheads make their bed in the shallows of a riverbend, wait under a layer of mud for the moving thing. The moving thing may be a crawdad. The moving thing may be a woodlouse. The moving thing may be a sunfish. The moving thing may be a finger finding the mouth of a flathead who consumes the hand. The whole hand pulled in, hooking on gills. She pulls the flathead out of the water by its mouth, barbels flinching.

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Jennifer Conlon holds a MFA from Arizona State University and a BA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She was awarded the 2017 Katherine C. Turner prize from the Academy of American Poets, the 2015–2016 Aleida Rodriguez Memorial Award in Creative Writing, and a 2016 fellowship from The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Her poems have been published by or are forthcoming in Blue Earth Review, MeridianBennington Review, Poetry South, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer lives in North Carolina.