late night poem, April 26, 2015

They came to the river long after dark

And built a fire there, the four of them

They’d brought bait from home

A little tub of chicken livers for the catfish

And a coffee can full of nightcrawlers for everything else

They were too young for alcohol and, anyway

Higher than ever on the feeling of freedom

That a night on the water would give any fourteen year old

They casted into the nightblack river

And set their rods onto forked sticks stuck in the sand.

After a while they could see a line tighten and slice through the water

Away from the rod.

They waited till the fish stopped and only set the hook when it started again.

By midnight they had six keeping-size fish among them

Lashed through the gills on a woven nylon stringer.

They rinsed the blood and guts from their hands and warmed them over the fire.

.

He knew this one was a big one

The line stripped off the reel so fast

And carried across the river

“You better be careful with this one.”

He gave the fish slack

And, trembling with excitment and awe

Waited

He thought that the fish would never start again

And knew that he had missed his chance

That his hook was lying, cleaned

At the bottom of the river

But still he held and waited

His arms ached from holding the pole without moving

Till the fish moved again and the boy’s heart pounded

The fish went deep and the boy’s rod bent double

“Don’t pull too hard. That thing’ll snap that line.”

He lowered the rod a bit and stayed there

Waiting, again, for the fish to move

But he did not move

And the boy pulled on the rod to test the fish

And the fish did not move and was so fixed

That the boy was convinced that his line was now snagged on a rock or root

But then the fish took off again, straightaway from the boy

And the line snapped and whipped out of the water

And curled in the night air toward the boy.

.

When the bait was all gone they gathered their gear

Kicked the burning logs into the water

And listened to the coals squeal.

Copyright 2015

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