First, tell your children they control the line.
Let them grip the reel, mimic the way you move,
the way you twist your body and flick your wrist
in an attempt to cast a perfect arc, a release so gentle
it appears autonomous in its flight, lands soft
as a waterfly. Note the ripples stretching outward
from the landing spot, a visible echo reaching back
to you. Accept this as a duty fulfilled.
Teach your children the power of patience, equal in power
to silence, breeders of suspense as the line sinks deeper,
slowly, as a mind does into memory. Do not discuss the chaos
beneath the surface, the river’s history, the men once stuck
in its mud—not yet. No need to mention what lures the fish:
a worm squirming in pain, appearing more alive in death,
the hook piercing its clitellum. What matters is the line
above water and the hands controlling it, holding it steady,
ready to curb any sudden tension. Do not labor over the
explanations of fish, the vast array of them swimming,
their healed nares from old casts, from fishermen who
caught and released. Instead, enjoy the quiet. Tell them
not to worry; surely they’ll catch something. Fish seldom learn
from mistakes, even the eldest of them. So when the float slips
beneath the surface, almost steals the rod from your child’s
hands, let the fish run and think he’s got it.
After yielding the feeling of freedom, snap back the rod
and set the hook, then reel. Fight until you pull him above
the surface, twisting and shaking like a man being dragged
into hell. Prohibit the fear of blood as you unlatch the gill,
and when your child begs to keep his catch, out of pride, don’t
suggest the fish can’t be kept for its habit of taking bait,
but note: some things are best kept alive and at a distance,
unconsumed, but visited enough to remember.
Mention you’ve seen this fish before. He has left his stains on you
and likely will again. Mention that it’ll feel good to catch him
some other day, to run your fingers over the same old scars,
even though you’d prefer to leave the damn thing in the grass,
out of the stream, writhing in dirt and drowning on air.
Jacob Nantz received his MA in Poetry from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Evansville Review, Gigantic Sequins, Sou’wester, and elsewhere. Born and raised in the Chicago area, he currently lives and writes near Washington D.C.