It’s the difference between sinking and falling.
The ocean floor lives on what sinks, but the fish

that never naturally crest the surface could not
even imagine falling, could not conceive

of landing, of the shrieking of all its delicately
calibrated nerves slapping the deck of a dirty

ship and air—how could anything live on
something so thin that no matter how hard

it’s pulled, it could not be gilled in. And since
there is no such thing as a temporary exile,

could a fish that did escape ever shake the fear
of up, the primal certainty that one must climb

to fall and that if we climb high enough,
there will be nothing there at all?


John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as: Indiana Review, Southern Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New York Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest, and Cincinnati Review. He won the 2011 Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the 2010 Southeast Review AWP Short Poetry contest. He received his PhD from the University of Missouri in 2012.

Altitude Sickness
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