Catch & Release

Mike knew the Technicolor
possibilities of pan fish
           and cruising through
                       Lawson’s Cove
on Stockton Lake he taught
me, his little brother,
           their possibilities, too. 

Dad’s just back from Vietnam and married
to Ginger still. My half-sister shows me
a picture of our father and her mother
on the beach in Puerto Rico. Some damp
Tuesday in April. They seem comfortable,
but Dad knows Ginger slept with his brother
the whole time he holed up in rice patties
and field hospitals, in fox hole charley alpha.
Somewhere a transistor plays, the tide frozen
at the serrated edge of the chrome print. 

Ben, please write and tell me
every goddamned thing. Please
lend me a cigarette and give me
a drink of your whiskey, friend.
Please make me listen, really listen,
to what you have written because
the world may never know our valor,
may never know our mothers
or these Ozark Mountains, which
were never really mountains at all.

Mama had four sons.
           Marty killed himself.
                       Mike tried. Randy and I
stood at the edge
           of the pond skipping rocks.

To understand men is this—we cannot
                       without each other
and the time is passing. We catch
           what men means
                       man means
           we catch meaning only
to release it.
           Consider the salmon—the female
lays her eggs in a shallow
                       gravel pit. The males
deposit their sperm,
           their milt, and swim
off. The female covers the eggs,
           nurtures them
and dies. But really,
                       what of the salmon men?

We rent two canoes and put in at Aker’s Ferry
to float among the drunken American youth
for eight miles or so, among calls from men
giving beads to women who show their breasts,
fleshy, young and clad in Star Spangled print.
And perhaps I want to see them, too, for pure
entertainment and nothing else but Jesus floats
among us, someone says. We paddle forward.
Kyle is getting married soon. Nathan is moving
to Washington. Scott still works at the church
where we all met and I am figuring out what
it all means, having forgotten our food, beginning
to feel a bit delirious. We stop at Arrow Rock,
a cavern, and frightened by the strong current,
I stay behind while the other boys go spelunking.

When Mike and I go fishing
he is quieter now. At first,
I try to fill this
           but let silence enter
the boat. I cast my line,
catch little when left to my own
devices except the occasional
oak branch or lazy bluegill.