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A Change by Jacqueline Lucile Tiven | Word Riot

October 15, 2012      

A Change by Jacqueline Lucile Tiven

Listen to a reading of “A Change” by Jacqueline Lucile Tiven.

I once stayed at the house of a man
as he began to go crazy.

Little was said when he returned one evening
with a fish tank, though he groaned
and struggled to hoist it on the dresser
and could barely make sense
of the bundles of tubes
meant to keep the water fresh.

Then, starting off, there were only
four, silver and modest occupants
who had nothing in their world but pebbles
and the anticipation of a rain of flaked food
coming down. Even though
he spent many days yelling at his daughters,
he always spoke to the fish softly
and did not once tap at the glass
or make them afraid.

When each of the three women
in his family left the house to take the bus
in the morning, he took out his book of instructions
on how to train the fish and what to do
to treat them kindly.

The pain is almost too much.
Devotion is not directed by sense
or gravity, even if you believe in these things
at the beginning. It is possible: even, almost, easy

to wonder if: had just one small, finned body
betrayed him, floating limp
to the surface of the water,
a change would have come.

At the end of that story, he is holding his wife
in his arms, unable to remember what reason
or duty brought him clutching her dark, lavender hair,

while, in this one, he is still kneeling
to look for something stirring in a moss
or moving through a plastic castle.
The blue light upon his face
makes him look like a ghost.

About the author:

I am currently working on a collection dealing with the Reagan era, hyperrealism, and the peculiar cultural mythology of the American West as well as Hollywood and its correspondent mass culture. I have been published in journals such as Front Porch and received the 2010 Proper Prize for Poetry and was a Top 10 Finalist for the 2011 Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. More of her work can be read at

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