The One About the Fish

The hook-pierced perch are diving to deeper—
they’ll be reeled back in the end. 
At both shores, a thick scum off-gases sulphur. 
No help, now. It’s beyond fish to fend 
off the barbs in familiar worms. A green glint 
twitches on the invisible line; the joke’s
in the writhing, the gasp for fresh water. 
Ronnie flings it back and hollers for a smoke 

at Carl, in his flannels and beat-up flatbed. 
Blocked exhaust pipes whine like colic patients. 
Seven other men (some cousins) hold rods, 
bait, symbols of yearly migration 
back to the lake they were spawned in. Trucks, 
campers full (Hotshot drove his Winnebago)
came for a weekend of dead-end sportsmanship—
the lake’s protected. They catch, then let go. 

Carl quit drinking “on account of my liver-y”. 
The rest get so blotto their mosquito 
bites are sterile. Antiseptic 
alcohol mists moraines of Doritos. 
All nine start in on impressions; Hotshot 
hoots, “Do it again, Andy!” Andy does, 
awash in sweat and vanilla vapor. 
(The extract’s cheap. It might give a buzz

like a dull fly’s dance, or a whisper of earwigs.)
Someone (Chuck?) says, “I got ideas, man”. 
An old projector brought in someone’s cab:
he means to make pictures. The rusted fan
sticks and smells of cedar. “So what’ll it be?” 
asks Frank. “News? James Dean in his undershirt?”
Chuck clears it up. “We’re gonna watch a girl,” 
he grins. He fumbles with cranks through a sheen of dirt. 

Nothing melts a history so much as the lake:
bearded, with pensions, and still ruddy-
faced from skirts. The projector, says Chuck, “is broke”, 
and no one laughs. It could almost turn bloody
if it weren’t for the stray hook by Ronnie’s ear, 
to him an herb that shows impossible 
worlds. It tastes of tin flatware, metal 
and marvel. Carl drives him to the hospital 

sporting striped lacerations like gills. 
When he wakes, even the nurses are still.