Excerpt #105, Rocking-Chair Moon

Fishin’ Trip

Grandpa’s snoozing in the stern
of the boat, big leathery hand resting
on the butt of his rod,
and for a minute or two I’m tempted
to reach back and give his line a tug,
like Dad used to do to Ben and me
back in the old days,

when we competed
like gluttonous puppies
over the first, the biggest, the most.

It could be fun to shock Grandpa awake,
especially because he was once notorious
for the practice of stealthily lobbing
a ten-pound rock into the water and
speculating about the size of the fish
that could make such a splash.

But he never played the tug-the-line game
Don’t believe in it, he said—
so I decide the fun would be short-lived
and one-sided,

and I simply sit and row without effort
as the sun creeps higher,
the boat angles toward
a steadfast pair of groundhogs
at the water’s edge,
a single hawk rides the wind, unwavering,
keeping watch as

a thousand swallows
fly like grains of pepper
from their carbuncle-y cliff homes,

the loon of the lake glides along
a hundred feet behind us,
keeping pace without making a ripple
on the calm surface,
quiet settles in around me,
and I wish for a real fish—a monster—
to fall for Grandpa’s lure,
a real tug to jar him from sleep,
something besides memories and
melancholy and imitation cheer
to line his face,

and suddenly he startles awake,
eyes me suspiciously for just a second,
jerks his rod tip skyward,
watches as it throbs and nods
toward the water.
Little guy, he complains,
reeling, bringing in line easily,

but an instant later his pole doubles over,
his reel screams a long protest,
he says a choice word under his breath
but not very far under,
and I say Little guy? and fifty feet
behind us something huge
—the size of a twenty-pound rock—
swirls just below the surface and dives
and Grandpa’s face comes alive
with excitement, and he tries
to hand me the rod,
but I tell him it’s his fish,
and as he battles I drop the oars
and reach hopefully for the net.

But suddenly the line goes slack,

and we both know he’s lost his lunker,
but when he reels in, shoulders slumped,
to check the condition of his fly,
he finds the head of a small cutthroat,
jaws still stubbornly closed
around the hook,
and a hundred feet behind us
the loon of the lake surfaces,

the headless remains of a trout
clenched firmly in his bill,

and Grandpa grins and shakes his head
and mutters something about
the tug-the-line game, and the loon
gulps down the cutthroat carcass
and slips closer to us,
anticipating another easy meal, maybe,
and as he does,
as he stares studiously in our direction,

he winks, I swear he does,
and Grandpa laughs.
He laughs.

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