Hordes in five-mil neoprene
slinging quarter-pound spiders,
drifting red roe in pantyhose sacks
in the shadow of migrant camps
and rotting sucker shacks,
raunchy Rockettes dancing out of step
along jagged boulders and cement shards,
barking, "Fish on,"
their heavy reels raging at the current,
a war of skunk works for OCDs.
I fled to my secret river,
the dead river where there is no need to talk,
except to myself. The water defines
meander or perhaps it's the other way,
the point is solitude,
to be alone with a few fish
of immense self-interest.
White clay ribbons mark the chutes;
stay to the hardtack gravel,
obey the river's rhythm or pay.
Autumn deep as holes and
frog-green water, the trees barren,
curled brown leaves like floating
caskets on green water;
the crowds avoid this place
like the plague.
No damn fish, they say,
and too many ghosts.
Two black men crawl up the bank
carrying a quivering black king,
a great fish with slashes of white scar,
just dead or about to be,
I wonder if their black skin scars white.
Nice fish, I say, but they hurry on,
from a stone trap under the cement bridge
for food not game,
the difference clear to some.
Heat wiggles from the water
the way it escapes the sand
of Death Valley
in shimmering tendrils
like glass-snake threads
The winter river is a cruel companion,
landscape changing whimsically,
low and brushy tag alder,
hummocks of scrub oak and small red pines,
a deep gorge over the oxbow under
a canopy of leaning white cedar,
a place that could be six hundred miles north
or in Hokkaido.
The trout and salmon here must be raised
to anger or instinct. They do not eat,
carry no Moon Pies in canvas creels
or cold pork and gherkins on hard onion rolls.
Reproduction at the heart of it,
matching their genes against others and odds,
eternity the prize. These are not carefree
creatures, as if any were, but the possession
here seems stronger, like magnetic north,
where the lines dive earthward,
Nine hours in the river, wading, casting,
my arm needs no instruction,
has been here before, perfected the routine,
asserts its independence, which I gladly grant.
The line sings softly, a single strand of hair,
wrestled by a blustery wind. The takes here are
gentle as a wakeup kiss at 4 a.m.;
they invite a response, demand nothing.
A whitetail doe and two fawns,
last spring's, wander above me, wondering
what manner of creature I am.
Dangerous! I bark, scattering their flags.
Best they keep their discomfort around me,
the way the fish do.
Nine hours, two takes, no fish, I leave no
Only one salmon, seen at a distance in tea-brown water,
scooting up river, a small black coho, jack,
one of the stubborn few to leap the mesh weir
with single mindedness.
The fish here used to be dense as a Russian proverb,
but now just me in my secret river
where experts say there are no trout.
At home she asks, Catch any?
No. The usual, then.