A Fish Named Ginsburg By Jill M. Talbot

// Illustration by Niki Waters @kneesandkeysart


Hi Greg (Dr. Justice). Here’s a script for you to look at. It’s called A Fish Named Ginsberg. I was wondering if you could give me any feedback and/or pass on to any publishers in the biz? It could also be a TV show? Radiodrama? Let me know! A.bby



FRED: I just got this note on Twitter: “the other people in the magazine were funny. You should be funny. Not so serious.”

EVA: So? Whose Twitter?

FRED: Someone who goes by the name “Cracker Barrel.”

EVA: And you’re listening to someone who goes by a brand of cheese?

FRED: He has a lot of followers.



DOCTOR: There’s nothing I can do. The medical term is psychosomatic. It’s all in your head. I can refer you to a psychiatrist –


DOCTOR: Unfortunately we can’t turn anyone away who complains of chest pain. Bureaucracy doesn’t align with the boy who cried wolf. (PAUSE) Are you writing this down?

FRED: I want to make sure I get the full value of your expertise.

DOCTOR: You’re still healthy, I’m afraid. If you’re after an opiate

prescription –

FRED: I only want to find out what’s wrong with my heart.

DOCTOR: Rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pain –


FRED: Yes, all of those.

DOCTOR: Anxiety. Quit the poetry. Maybe read some Mary Oliver instead of Ginsberg. Go to couple’s therapy. Get a dog. Do some yoga. Live a little. And stop coming around here.

FRED: What terrible teacher turned you off poetry?

DOCTOR: See those people in the emerg waiting area? Maybe five won’t survive the week. If I could ban you, I would. I’m not even against utilitarianism—I would give them all your organs if I could. Now I’ll get the nurse to give you a mental health booklet and get out. Don’t come back until you’ve been hit by a car. (PAUSE) Stop writing!



EVA: How was the doctor?

FRED: He said my heart is fine, my brain’s the problem.

EVA: Like cancer?

FRED: Maybe. They’re doing some tests. The doctor thought I should read Mary Oliver!

EVA: Fred, I’m being serious –

FRED: Why does everyone think I’m not taking things seriously? I’m the one with the brain cancer!

EVA: So it is cancer? FRED: I need to work.

EVA: Fred, what words exactly did the doctor use?

FRED: Mary Oliver! I’m not shitting you on that.

EVA: You know what I mean.

FRED: And he assumed I read Ginsberg!

EVA: You’re impossible, Fred. I think you want cancer. My mother had cancer. It’s not funny.

FRED: I’m not trying to be funny!

EVA: Maybe you could get a fish?

FRED: Why would I want a fish!

EVA: I don’t know, Fred.



FRED: My wife tells me to get a fish.

DOCTOR: I thought I told you it’s not my problem?

FRED: A fish!

DOCTOR: Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or somebody else?

FRED: Why would you ask me that?

DOCTOR: If you are I can send you to psych, and that might teach you a lesson.

FRED: I’m still having chest pain.

DOCTOR: Yes, I’ve read that on your chart.

FRED: So? What are you going to do about it?

DOCTOR: I’m going to send you out into the cruel world just like every other time.

FRED: She left and told me to get a fish!

DOCTOR: I’m not a therapist. The world isn’t your oyster. We aren’t actors in your play.

FRED: You’re mixing metaphors –




AMBER: Mum wanted me to give this to you.

FRED: A fish?

AMBER: Now you’re really losing it. Yes, as you can see, this is a goldfish.

FRED: Why does she want me to have a goldfish? I don’t want a goldfish.

AMBER: You know you aren’t supposed to make your kids play your games?

FRED: I’m sorry, you’re right. It’s just, a fish.

AMBER: Mum’s right. You’re a narcissist.

FRED: Your mother said that?

AMBER: I overheard her talking to Aunt Carrie. Aunt Carrie said she always knew it and warned her about it but now it’s too late because I exist.

FRED: Did they explain the fish?

AMBER: I don’t know, Dad, why don’t you write a memoir?

FRED: The notion that everyone’s lives are worthy of memoirs is one of the sad misconceptions of your generation.

AMBER: Whatever Dad, I feel sorry for your fish.

FRED: Are your friends still bulimic? I used to get a lot of eating disorder poems from students. Now they’ve seemed to have moved on to other issues.

AMBER: We’re all crazy like you? Is that what you want me to say?

FRED: I just thought you might –

AMBER: If the fish dies, I won’t tell mum if we don’t have to do this anymore. Oh and I’m supposed to tell you about my piano recital. I know you won’t come so whatever, I can say I told you.

FRED: Of course I’ll come!

AMBER: Don’t.

FRED: But you just –

AMBER: Don’t come.



FRED: What are you doing here? You don’t work here.

DOCTOR: I thought I would give my favourite patient a visit.

FRED: Still planning on giving away my organs?

DOCTOR: I’ve been thinking about your fish dilemma.

FRED: It’s not a dilemma –

DOCTOR: Maybe your wife feels like she is the fish.

FRED: I thought you weren’t a shrink?

DOCTOR: I’m not. And you don’t have cancer.

FRED: Now she won’t let me see my daughter!

DOCTOR: They wanted my opinion, you said I want to give away your organs. Which, as you know, would be what we medical professionals call a paranoid delusion. They wanted my insight on how it started.

FRED: What did you tell them?

DOCTOR: I said I would talk to you first.

FRED: Isn’t there some sort of oath not to do this?

DOCTOR: Sure, we studied Mother Theresa right in-between cancer and Parkinson’s.

FRED: Please, just tell them I’m not crazy. And tell them I am a poet.

DOCTOR: I can do one or the other, not both.

FRED: Tell them I’m not crazy.

DOCTOR: If you promise to never come back here, I’ll tell them you’re an idiot, not mentally ill.

FRED: But –

DOCTOR: Ever heard of the poet who cried cancer?

FRED: No –

DOCTOR: That’s because nobody cared enough to write it

FRED: Just get me out of here!

DOCTOR: I’ll tell them you’re an idiot and it was an honest misunderstanding.

FRED: Thank you.

DOCTOR: Don’t come back. I mean it!



FRED: I guess it’s now just you and me, fish. Am I supposed to name you? How’s Ginsberg? Let’s see what I have to mark. Yet another personal essay on sexual assault, one about learning to fart on command, aha! Cancer. No, it’s a personal essay on cancer as a metaphor. And an essay on… what?


AMBER: My dad is a poet. At least, he thinks he’s a poet. My mum’s a social worker. They don’t belong together. I’m supposed to say that they did, at one point, because that’s what created the beautiful snowflake that is me. I didn’t inherit my dad’s ego. But maybe they did belong together. Social workers take care of people. Poets exploit people. My mum is a social worker. My dad is a poet. I am the goldfish. My mum said my dad can’t take care of a fish, and she gave him one just to prove it. My dad was in a psych ward. We’ll never know why. He still tells people he has cancer. My aunt has cancer, most likely. My mum cries about it. I told my dad not to come to my piano recital because I knew he wouldn’t. I know what you’re going to say, the fish metaphor doesn’t work. That’s what my dad would say. Then he would inspect my teacher’s assign- ments. Say that the Mockingbird was already dead or something. They say babies are made because people love each other, but kids aren’t stupid. Not all of us, anyway.

FRED: Who wrote this? What type of sick joke is this?

AMBER: I looked up the university’s “confessions” page on Facebook. I asked if anyone was taking classes with my dad and wanted a spare paper. I had to bribe someone with a blowjob. Just joking! I found someone who was going to drop out anyway. I thought this way maybe my dad would listen. Give the student an A anyway, it’s not like you’ve never broken the rules. He thought it was funny. I don’t.

STEVE: It’s hilarious! Totally worth any price! Bring it on Fred! I feel like we’re on a first name bases now.


GINSBERG: I saw the most mediocre minds of my generation destroyed by madness.

FRED: Ginsberg, was that you? I’m not going back to the doctor.

GINSBERG: I didn’t tell you to.

FRED: But you’re talking.

GINSBERG: Never heard of a fish poet before? Don’t get too excited.

FRED: Does my wife know?

GINSBERG: You humans really need to start thinking outside of the tank.

FRED: I’m not sure I follow?

GINSBERG: I’m stuck in this tiny tank. You’ve got the entire world and howl, howl, howl! You’re stuck in your own bubble.

FRED: How can you talk?

GINSBERG: How can you swim?

FRED: I… I think I need some aspirin.

GINSBERG: Sure thing, Fred. Get me a glass of water while you’re at it?


GINSBERG: It was a joke, Fred. Lighten up a little. Show Cracker Barrel who’s boss. Do you find my questions funny, Fred?

FRED: Excuse me?

GINSBERG: I saw it on TV once.

FRED: You’re not much of a poet.

GINSBERG: I’ve been spending too much time with you and too much time in this tank.

FRED: Where else does a goldfish go?

GINSBERG: It could be a bigger tank. And maybe with a better view.

FRED: A tank with a view?

GINSBERG: Don’t mock me. We all have our needs. I don’t think this is even big enough to be called a tank, I think it’s what you call a fishbowl.

FRED: Why don’t you sing?

GINSBERG: We`re back to the Disney fish again.

FRED: My wife used to watch this show called Say Yes to the Dress!

They would bring out all of these wedding gowns until the woman found one she loved. Sometimes I feel like people are just waiting for me to say yes to the dress.

GINSBERG: You’ve got that backwards, Fred. You’re waiting for people to say yes to you. Yes, you do have cancer. Yes, I do sing. Yes, I do love you. Yes, you are Ginsberg –

FRED: Why does everyone think I want to be Ginsberg?

GINSBERG: Yes, yes, yes, yes… You suck their tanks dry.

FRED: I think Cracker Barrel is a student. Today he tweeted that I teach people how to sleep in uncomfortable positions. I’m going to my office.

GINSBERG: This is your office.

FRED: My other office. I Googled talking fish.

GINSBERG: Did it mention suicide?

FRED: I assume there’s an 1-800 number for that.



DOCTOR: So it appears your wish has come true, this time you had an actual heart attack.

FRED: Where’s my wife?

DOCTOR: On her way.

FRED: How did I get here?

DOCTOR: Your fish called 9-11. Just joking. Your daughter did. She is a good girl. You shouldn’t screw that up more than you already have.



FRED: Well class. This is going to be our last lecture. I’m taking a break from teaching for medical reasons. I want you to reflect on what you’ve learned here. Poetry is all about honesty. Some of you were less than honest in your assignments. Some of you wrote about other people’s lives and pretended they were your own. Some of you stole assignments. Some of you’ve probably never even read poetry. The truth is, it’s all a Ponzi scheme. You are the ones paying money to come here. You get to decide what you learn. In the real world, nobody will give two cents that you got good grades in English 104. You know how Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes hooked up? She bit his ear. That was how. None of you, I think, have the audacity to bite anyone’s ear, nor to find talking fish, nor to spend a night in the emerg for heartbreak. You go on your Facebook confessions pages to rant about professors and busses but you haven’t lived a day in your life. You aren’t funny. You’re kids in some social experiment –

STEVE: Dude, is this a joke?

FRED: Some of you will date professors’ daughters, others will date professors. Some of you may even get in trouble with the law. Some of you may fight the injustices of having to complete papers for grades that won’t give you jobs. I’m here to tell you that you’re right. It is a Ponzi scheme. Nobody becomes a poet from university. Some of you will survive, some of you won’t. Some of you will grade papers for the rest of your life only to befriend a sadistic doctor and a cruel fish. None of you will become Ginsberg. You will just survive. In real life, if the fish talks, you’re just stuck alone with your secret. There’s no singing. The fish does not sing. Are you taking notes? Fish don’t sing.



FRED: Yes, you all think I’m funny now.


FRED: Here’s your new professor. His name is Ginsberg. Your assignment is to keep him alive. Because in the end, what else matters? You can turn in any replace- ment assignments for those that were plagiarized or missed. You’re in luck, I hear his alphabet only goes to B. He likes jazz and a tank—or bowl—with a view.

STEVE: Is anybody recording this? Fred, you are funny.

FRED: Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a piano recital to attend.



Happy holidays. In regards to your script, it has some good lines but I’m afraid I don’t know what I can do with it. I was a friend of your father and I’m not sure what you’re looking for from me. He was a good man. Before you were born he was quite successful. The entire English depart- ment was saddened by his loss.
Maybe you should get a fish? Dr J.
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!
Dr. Greg Justice
Department of English University of Alberta



Jill M. Talbot’s bio: I won’t lie, I’m entering the Deathmatch because I’m a masochist. I’m also a Gemini, twin, adoptee, psychoanalytic dork, skidrow junkie, 11% transient Mexican, winner of a scarecrow contest in grade five, undercover spy and crazy cat lady without a cat. It’s seven truths and a lie, right? I’m also good at math. You can find me on Twatter @ Jilltalbo. Though I have many books, I have no face or friends and thus no Facebook.