The Axolotl Inquest

for Rachelle Wright

No one asked the axolotl
“Would you like to leave
the warm peridot waters
of Lake Xochimilco?
Would you trade the fertile chinampas
for an aquarium and floodlight scrutiny
in our research labs?”

Maybe if we’d asked the axolotl
he’d have said, “¡Órale!”
Morphing back to doggish deity Xolotl
he might have barked,
“Get me out of this lake slurped dry,
these stagnant canals. Free me from
invaders—plastic-bag-toting tourists
and suffocating water lilies,
these upstart carp and tilapia
who eat my eggs!”

But no one asked the axolotl
“May we shed your pebbly olive skin?
May we make you white, even pink
as pet owners prefer?
May we sever your arms
to watch them regenerate
and clip notes from the arpeggio
of your spine?”

Maybe if we’d asked the axolotl
he’d have agreed to
less harmonic vertebrae
nonessential eye transplants
surgically swapped brains.
He might well have pleaded
for procedures, tied himself up in knots
for the privilege of advancing
human knowledge.

But maybe not.
While fellow gods eviscerated themselves
to coax the newborn Sun to crawl
Xolotl transformed into a walking fish
and scurried into the lake
where he endured for centuries
the shit and garbage
of urbanization

someone saw his nubby teeth
and lipless grin, the swishing tail
like man’s best friend
and assumed the god was here to serve.
So no one asked the axolotl.

(Editors’ Note: “The Axolotl Inquest” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 15B.)


Lisa M. Bradley

Lisa M. Bradley writes everything from novels to haiku, usually with a speculative slant inflected by her Latinidad. Her debut novel, Exile, depicts a young woman’s desperate attempts to escape the street wars of her quarantined hometown (Rosarium Publishing, July 2019). Her short fiction and poetry appear in numerous venues, most recently Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Anathema, and Rosalind’s Siblings. In addition to being Poetry Editor for Uncanny’s special issue Disabled People Destroy Fantasy, she is the coeditor, with R.B. Lemberg, of Climbing Lightly Through Forests, a poetry anthology in tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin (forthcoming from Aqueduct Press). She is also a maternal-looking Murderino, the most dangerous kind. Follow her—if you dare!—on Twitter (@cafenowhere) or check out her website:

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