The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy


He didn’t tell us when he learned what it meant,
that they took their words from them.
If he were not an accountant, my father,
he might have been a historian. A fisherman. Or
he might have been nobody. He might have been unsettled.
Father, did you have these questions, when you were young with only
your cousin, your aunt?
Father, did your father know?
Did your father tell you,
how he and his brother were called half-breed,
how he didn’t know his father?
Did you read to your mother?
Did you read to your dog, until you could pronounce the words properly?
Did you eat Hershey’s Chocolate toast sandwiches with your father?
Did your father read aloud from his bible, or
did he keep his words from you?
Father, did you dream then of salt sweeping your lungs, of sand
and volcanic rock beneath
your feet, or snow?
Did you watch the birds as a boy for Company?
Did you try to give them names?
Father, did you play Indians?
Or were you cowboys?
How did you feel, the way your father asked your mother
for a sandwich and a beer,
and a beer,
like a man?
Mother says these things skip a generation.

I don’t remember learning these words—
deprivation, decimation, assimilation,
I don’t remember Carlisle in my school books. Was it something
you showed me, Father, that summer
we toured all the battlefields?
If he were not an accountant, my father,
he might have been a historian.
But there was no value in these things,
no way he could convey.
I don’t know when I learned what it meant,
they took our words from us.

This selection comes from the book, How to Dress a Fish, available from Wesleyan University Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Natalie Giarratano.

Abigail Chabitnoy earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow and 2020 Kenyon Writers Workshop Peter Taylor Fellow. She has been a resident of Caldera and the Wrangell Arts Center, and her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Boston Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, LitHub, and Red Ink, among others. She is a Koniag descendant and member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska, was raised in Pennsylvania, and is currently a consultant for a company in CO that works to facilitate tribal self-determination. Her debut poetry collection, How to Dress a Fish, was released from Wesleyan University Press. Visit her website at for more information. Twitter Handle: @achabitnoy

Natalie Giarratano is the author of Big Thicket Blues (Sundress Publications, 2017) and Leaving Clean, winner of the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry (Briery Creek Press, 2013). Her poems have appeared in Beltway PoetryTupelo Quarterly, Tinderbox, and American Literary Review, among others. She edits and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her partner and daughter and is the city’s poet laureate. 

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