Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Summertime Poem: Stories Are What We Have

You catch it, you clean it:

My father's invariable rule.

No matter how bone-tired

From the day of fishing,

We scaled and gutted our fish.


Except that one time,

When the man who made a living

Cleaning fish in the river bottoms

Did the dirty work for us.

That river rat

My mother dismissively called him.

He worked on a rough plank wharf

Onto a slough backing from the dark river,

Green cypress feathers arching overhead,

Wild razorbacks rooting for heads and guts

He threw into the water as he worked.

It was alive, the water was,

With voracious swine

Wrestling with alligator gars and water moccasins

For the fresh offal

Rained free from the wharf.


A tiny world,

A world complete,

Now vanished everywhere but in my mind,

Where it remains as real, as whole

As if I'm there now

Beside the thrashing water,

Amidst the hogs and gars and writhing snakes

That constitute the substance of my memory.


Yes, that's my story

And I'm sticking to it.

When we lose our stories

After all

We lose everything we have.

The picture is from the website of Moro Bay State Park in Arkansas, and captures the scenery along the bottoms of the Ouachita River in Union County in which my father and brothers and I fished frequently as I was growing up. A series of videos at YouTube by a fisherman named ttenni provides fascinating coverage of the same areas, and this one, in particular, shows scenes very much like those I remember from our fishing excursions--though I don't remember anything like the cacophony in the soundtrack of the video.

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