Burial of the Sardine

Giannina: I’m burying the sardine—the dead body I carry on my back.

Zarathustra: A little fish—in a little coffin. And for this—for this little stinky
thing—we came from so far?

Giannina: Look, it’s moving. It’s still alive.

Zarathustra: It’s so salty and ugly it itches and bites.

Giannina: It worked its whole life in the sludge of oil and vinegar. I’ll sprinkle
incense, myrrh, and a pound of gold to be buried with it under the

Hamlet: Hurry up. The ferry will leave without us.

Giannina: You have no idea how much I’ve suffered under the influence of
this rigorous but retarded sardine. Not a warrior, but a soldier. Making me
vow to its regiment of passive-aggressive work. No traveling was allowed.
No smoking allowed. No pets allowed. No one could get near me
because the sardine would stink—and its stink would bite. Sometimes it
would fly around the rim, but it would always dive back into the can
sardines—looking for its paycheck. Every two weeks—it brought me a
salary—the stinky sardine—and I brought home all I could buy with that
salary—confinement, imprisonment. Depending on a salary made me
salivate—but it blew my mind to dust—the dust that blows around and
makes you cough—but you hardly can see it because it’s made of dust. But
I’m not made of dust—I’m made of flesh—and making love to the little
sardine drove me crazy. It was such a little fish it barely filled my mouth. I
could hardly eat it. I grew hungry—hungry for a big fish. God help me—no
more fish! Please no clams, no oysters! Please—nothing shelled or scaled!
Nothing salted—nothing finned or fanged! Because it had fangs—the
sardine had fangs—and it bit me like a rabid squirrel. It must have known I
wanted to bury it. Its fangs were long—and its screams were shrill—and it
held grudges—and it had bones to pick. It blamed me for keeping it
down—but all I wanted was its liberation from the can. I wanted it to
breathe clean air—and to sing. Your mouth is already open—now take a
deep breath, little fishy, and sing—sing a song of love. You know my cords
are made of vibrant colors. You know I too come from the sea—but I don’t
come with grudges in my fangs. I come with wings to fly from your stink. I
hate sardines.

Zarathustra: Then why do you eat them?

Giannina: Because I detest their helplessness. I wouldn’t eat a lion. It would
eat me first. I eat what is weaker than me. I like lamb. I watch a grazing
lamb, and my mouth waters. I could eat it alive. But not sardines. They’re
already dead. They never lived. They’re dead even when they’re alive.
Always with their mouths open. Begging for water. And I don’t mind
beggars. But sardines are not beggars—they’re squirmers. They beg for
water—but what they really want is to eat you alive—with their
deadliness—which is a plague—a virus—bacteria—something contagious
that kills you without killing you. They open their mouths to beg for
water—but do nothing but gulp the draught and wait for water—with their
open—as if snoring, which is worse than imploring—they’re beggarly
beggars that don’t even beg—they’re too dead to beg—and they’re deadly
contagious. It’s their deadliness that lingers over me every day of my
life—the dead inertia of the sardine that obeys and begs for water, gallons
water, and does what it’s asked to do in spite of no water and denies itself
so much—that it doesn’t realize it doesn’t have a being anymore—and it
lets itself be canned—always with its open mouth saying:
—Drop dead, but give me drops of water. I don’t want to be buried
alive. I want to survive. I’m a salaried sardine. Give me more money.
That’s why they’re so salty and ugly, they itch and bite. Because they’re
salivating for salty salaries—salty salaried sardines.

Zarathustra: It is not a sardine. It is a big fish.

Giannina: The coffin is small, but the stench is immense.

Giannina Braschi, from United States of Banana, 2011.