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My Grandfather’s Fishes

My grandfather goes fishing by the creek
in an oversized denim jacket and faded cap
stitched, in cursive with

VIETNAM VETERAN

He was soldering copper in 1969 in rural town,
no newspaper, no radio, no TV,    
but he found the cap in ‘88
and has worn it ever since.    
The cap covers his hair receding like invisible ink. 

He made his own fishing rod out of
clotheshangers, string, and paper clips,
and dug in our neighbors’ yards to find bugs and bait.

Walking against the grain of the sun, he’ll shape his own
pedestrian path to the creek, all seventy-four years
of muscle memory stirring the coffee beans of the earth. 

He’ll lay down the coupon clippers
and direct mail in a row,
adjusting paper weight to make his seat. 
His hands sit high on his rod, rod close to his heart,
hands occasionally covering the stinging cold
leaking around the corners of his mouth.

There’s money on the windowsill to buy fish,
we tell him, and when we all go to the store,
we praise and point to the wide selection,
quality, and freshness of their fish.

Wouldn’t you like some Alaskan salmon
or Chilean sea bass, we ask?

He doesn’t answer us. 

We resign and save grocery bags
and knick knacks to help him collect his fish:
a special bag for each fish in the creek—
carp, the occasional trout, mostly minnows;
a special bag for rare fish; one reserve bag
for the day he catches the Great Fish. 

My grandfather arranges his bags by hierarchy
and stacks them like Lincoln Logs. 
His fingers are old,
skin dripping like cake batter from his small frame,
joints moving as smoothly as a wooden manikin in a still life display.

Then he will wait.  When a fish catches on, he’ll take a dull knife and
sharpen it against the creek rocks and scale and gut the fish. 

He says nothing when he returns home, placing his fish away
in a cooler, choosing a single fish to sauté plain. 

We say nothing of the stench or hours he spends outside of home.
We tell him the fish he caught are fine and fit for a king,
chewing the salty meat as slowly as a caramel
before we excuse ourselves to the toilet.
Posted 02/09/12
My Grandfather's Fishes was a Semi-Finalist for the Naugatuck River Review Third Annual Narrative Poetry Contest. This poem was originally published in the the Naugatuck River Review, Winter 2012, Issue 7.
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