Warmouth · Cuyahoga River

Warmouth Sunfish (Lepomis gulosis)

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by Camille Ferguson

Also called: molly, redeye, goggle-eye, red-eyed bream, strawberry perch. 
Mo-mouth, stumpknocker, limb-bream. 

A mouthful. 

You are mouthfull. Some think
you’re named for having more mouth than your relatives, 
& that you’ve been mispronounced (warmouth/more
mouth/warmouth/more mouth) over time. 
People say you’re all mouth, which, as opposed to 
being described as all heart, I can tell you
that’s not a bad thing to be. 
Often I daydream about discarding my heart 
& letting everything it had been holding spill 
out of my lips, which is to say I wish I was mouthier. 

Others believe you’re named for your stripes, 
resembling warpaint used by Native Americans. 
& others, still, offer an odd logic 
on the origin of your name:
got a mouth so big you could have a war in it! 

I think we relate too often in terms of violence. 
So I call you something silly, like google-eye, like stumpknocker. Sometimes we need something light. 

You avoid the light, which is a funny thing for a sunfish
to do. You have teeth on your tongue, & rungs
along your throat like a ridged shell, or a mountainous cave. 
If one were to only view you through your open mouth, 
they would think you much larger than you are.  

You eat almost anything—waterfleas,
aquatic sowbugs, crayfish, small crustaceans—
but you aren’t often eaten. (People often describe
your taste as muddy. It is funny to expect a bottom
feeder to taste of something other than the bottom 
of whatever water they feed in)
Some people do, catch & eat you. 
They cook mudfish nuggets in hot grease. 

It is lucky, however, 
in this world, not to be devoured. 

You are not intensely desired. 
You are not in danger, yet. 
You are, in fact, a least concern. 
This is the best thing you can be. 

(As a human, every time you learn about a creature, 
especially one with goggle-eyes, gigantic mouths 
& little stained glass mohawks, you must 
google their conservation status, hold your breath & hope
for the words least concern to appear before you.)

You are in the water all around me, elusive, 
hiding amongst vegetation, red-eyed, 
golden-bellied, being mistaken for other fish 
(rock-bass, green sunfish) 
& called by names that don’t fit 
(sunfish, warmouth), 
worrying only about what to put into your very large mouth
today & chew up with your tooth-speckled-tongue, 
& deciding ultimately on what is nearest—delicious. 

They say fish don’t feel pain. I wish you could
open your enormous mouth & tell us. 
I’m out here listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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