From Delicate Armor ~ Chapter Seven: Still Mouth, Fixed Eyes

Some people say that a bullhead, which has no scales, is an ugly fish. But I don’t think so. To me, it looks like one of the prehistoric animals in the Wildlife Book of Knowledge Mom got for me at the grocery store.

Holding my fish down against the board, I’m not sure I can kill him. His skin is smooth and silky against my own. Compared to the sunnies, bullheads just lie there, helpless. Panfish fight the hand and the cutting board. I know, because Dad let me clean one with a little knife last summer and it kept slapping the board until I got a firm grip on it, then shivered when the knife cut off its head. Its tiny scales fell away like little pieces of armor.

“Delicate armor,” Dad calls them, especially when he scales a big fish for baking and the little pieces end up all over the place, even in our hair. He says that has to happen with people, too. You must scrape away the outer layer if you ever want to get at the heart of something.


Excerpt from Chapter Twenty-four: Hugged by Cornfields ~ 1981

I left Masterton long ago, turning my attention to textbooks and teachers who spoke of things beyond my dreams. But the Southwest prairie never left me. Memories of this land are like reliable friends—the rushing creek that warbled and toyed with us kids in springtime, the black and caramel railroad trestle, smelling of sun-burnt creosote, offered up its timbers for climbing. The whispering tallgrass.

I will return in mind to broad pastures where cows crowd against barb-wired posts, snuffling at the right moments through moist, ringed nostrils while I recite My Last Duchess. I’ll gallop down the slope to the gray-green inlets of Lake Shetek, where it is sometimes tranquil, sometimes cacophonous with geese and ducks, and its bays are teeming with pike and bullheads and the old snapping turtle who once paid me a visit. Time and again, Dad will pilot the ten-horse ride around the bay before docking our wooden boat. With a stringer of fish, we’ll climb the steps to our cottage on Tepeeotah hill, shouting, “We’re back!”

Tepeeotah Hill

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