Plain China

teaching goldfish how to breathe

by Xandria Phillips · Oberlin COllege
Portrait of The Artist , Na Chainuka Reindorf · Grinnell College

vets have successfully installed frog lungs
into a goldfish/ I read this news on a blog
today/ the picture of her/ the fish a close up


on her sapped fishface/ a syringe plunged to its neck
in her gills/ it is said that she survived
two hours out of water in a humid chamber/


in these times when the definition of survival
is hinged upon whether or not we breathe
I cannot help but decide that I was never meant


to survive/ when the doctors gave me my lungs
I was slapped for good measure and sent to live
out my land-locked existence/ in school a boy spit


on my neck/ perhaps he sensed my dehydration/
a girl asked me if I had ever been wet/ to which I had no response/
the Cuyahoga River overtook main roads/ flushing tiny organisms


into the streets/ my first day in the land of gold I dipped
one foot into a pool constructed for white people/
that would be the closest I would come to the sea


and a week later went back on my word/ holding
my breath as my toes tasted brine/ my lungs collapsed
then/ it is said that I survived twenty years out of water

About the Author

Xandria Phillips · Oberlin COllege

Recent graduate Xandria Phillips grew up in rural Ohio and studied creative writing and Africana studies. Her poetry explores Blackness in international and American contexts, queerness, displacement, and Atlantic myth. She is currently an MFA student at Virginia Tech. Her poem first appeared in Oberlin’s journal, Wilder Voices.

About the Artist

Na Chainuka Reindorf · Grinnell College

As an artist, Na Chainkua Reindorf is inspired largely by her home country, Ghana. Much of her work is created by linking experiences from back home with those from abroad. She especially enjoys navigating new spaces, finding ways in which they intersect with her own life. She works largely with paintings, prints and photographs, documenting her life by capturing snippets of others’ around her. Portrait of The Artist first appeared in The Grinnell Review. See more of her work here.