I can’t explain, but it’s true.
At ten years old, I beheld the lemon and slate
of the slender fish, flashing below the surface.
My father told me to settle back:
my gawking over the gunwale rocked our canoe,
E.M. White Guide’s Model with feathered hull-planks,
the one he called a work of art.
It is. I have it now.
I’d taken a minnow –or I should say that he had–
from the bait pail, which I called a cage.
I’d run the hook –or rather he had– through a dorsal
and then cast feebly. Five yards, maybe six.
The bobber shivered. Yank! yelled my father.
I set the hook and the world took on a meaning
it had never had.
I know. What a claim. I know.
But that’s how it felt:
a thrill, but also something like trauma.
That’s how it felt.
No, I can’t explain.
The only way to reel the new world back
to something I could grasp (and did I want that?)
would be to boat my catch.
Easy after all.
I’d learn in time a pickerel’s not a prize,
not to so-called serious anglers.
True, the fish made a desperate rush
toward a spread of pads, just then folding their lilies,
but then came back, almost docile,
to the long-handled net that awaited.
My father used forceps to pull the hook,
for fear of the menacing teeth.
An evening star stole out.
Mist began to sheathe the shore.
It slipped a gown on the dockside pine.
I could just discern the eyes of the fish,
like tiny shards of china.
I dreamed I’d glimpsed the course of my future years,
rife with exploits and color.
Why would a child fetch up such a ludicrous vision?
I’m not the one to answer.
And yet, however tame my life may have been,
compared to some, at least,
I believe that vatic moment held some truth.
Oh, I’d catch bigger, better fish.
I’d know bigger, better things at large.
But the pickerel gleams to this day
in the hands of that gentle parent, dead too young.
Full dark looming, he eased it back to the lake.