If the axolotl could clean his own tank, 

we’d have at least two extra hours free each month.  

We wouldn’t have to nag my brother,  

remind him that the water is getting low,  

but we would probably have to remind the axolotl instead, 

silly little guy that he is.  

We wouldn’t have to fret about scaring him, 

hurting him,  

when we scrub algae from the sides of the tank– 

he could get all the hard to reach places himself.  

We would still worry that he’s high off water conditioner 

when we walks along the sand like an alligator,  

slow and regal on his hind legs, 

as though he were dreaming of being a dinosaur.  

We wouldn’t have to worry about contaminating ourselves  

every time he shits– 

we would give him the little blue fish net 

and he’d dispose of it.  

There would be a trail of tiny water stains 

on the carpet from the bedroom to the bathroom,  

spots of rot on my brother’s white dresser  

where he climbs down every two weeks.  

He might actually evolve,  

having gotten a taste of freedom–  

become bipedal, sleepwalk.  

My brother would wake up in the mornings with delight 

to the axolotl curled at his feet like a dog.  

The axolotl might start joining us at the dinner table, 

slurping down worms while we eat spaghetti.  

He and my brother would both have to be reminded  

to take their dirty dishes to the sink. 

They would develop their own language to suit 

an axolotl’s small brain and lack of tongue.  

We would all try to learn it,  

But we would not speak it as well as the two of them.  

There would be no more need for me  

to direct my brother like a parent,  

retying my hair and pushing my sleeves back up,  

while deciding whether we should replace the fake coral 

or refill the tank first.  

Instead, I would poke my head in his room, 

and I’d see the axolotl sitting at his desk with him,  

watching the computer screen with a new comprehension,  

one I’d fear would be beyond my own. 

Gracie Overstreet is an undergraduate student studying Writing Intensive English.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library,