Read time: 2 mins

fish & Merchant

by Topher Allen
23 May 2022



if you see me being swept out to sea,

haul me ashore, with net or by hook

in the corner of my mouth


press two fingers under my jaw line;

feel not for pulse but for slit,

a constant open-and-shut,

the out-stream of water


touch this skin; touch all of this skin;

feel for silver scales,

a web of spiny bristles growing

from the midline of my back


see if my fingers have fused into fins

to part the sea instead of legs,

to plunge into new darkness,

new depths, new salt


ask the men who have feasted on me

          if they ever had to dislodge

     my bone from their throats


In Jamaica, the word ‘fish’ is used to derogatorily refer to homosexual men.



I’ve been wanting to trade my back,

this broad collector of lack and lashes.

Exchange it for land, a plot

of unploughed peat, rich with cattle shit.


Trade for seeds these lymph nodes

scattered in the soaked earth

of my groin, these veins too for roots;

let tree trunks

shoot through my skin’s topsoil.


I want rows of sugar cane instead

of welts across my acres.

The maggots harvested from orchards

of corpses stacked

in the burlap bags under my eyes,

trade them for the supple limbs of light.


Trade the length and flow of hair

for the rivers.

This breadth between my shoulders,

this saddle, this reflector of moonlight,

trade it for the sea—the wide conveyor

of cargo, the source of salt,

the cemetery of dreams.

Speak OUT! Issue 2

Illustration by Eddaviel

About the Author

Topher Allen

Topher Allen is a poet and fiction writer from Clarendon, Jamaica. His work explores Jamaican geography and the island’s cultural and historical experiences. He is an Obsidian Foundation Fellow whose work appears in Montreal Writes, Pree, Poetry London, Magma, Ambit and elsewhere. Allen won the Poet Laureate of Jamaica: Louise Bennett-Coverley Prize in 2019 and […]