I’ve never gone on a “father-son fishing trip.” Nor have I ever called anyone “Pa.” Still, this is my go at a fishing poem. I’m drawn to the idiomatic force of the “fishing trip” as a trope for intimacy, serenity, and spiritual fulfillment in nature, just as I’m drawn to the possibility of “ordinary” speech as a vehicle of familiarity and ease. Neither one is mine, though. The poem’s suggestion that one might join one’s father for an end-of-life fishing trip, speaking in cadences of folksy directness, provokes awkwardness in me. The poem, I think, wants to embrace that awkwardness, and to take the journey that it knows is unavailable to it. In literal terms, it follows a much denatured creek that rambles through the town I now live in, and it dumps out into the Lake Ontario of my childhood. Even as a full grown person, far into one’s own life, one might persist in imagining how “everything” would be different had you and Pa only taken that trip together.
I suppose I shan’t go fishing
Pa, for fear of finding
We’re no fishers,
Our folk, for all our
Bent for fish scraps and our
Tolerance for muck dwellers and the like.
But this creek is like no other, Pa,
Inky cold and familiar,
Don’t drink from it, it
Commands, don’t kneel, don’t stare down
Or wash in it, don’t pry your shoes from off
Your battered stubs, not yet, no jay
Flashes past and asks how you mean to
Ask a shit creek to provide.
You exist. It would, too. It falls through
These viney half-corrupted patches of nettled hickory and oak
Into a muddy slough
Into a culvert, splitting
Around the treatment plant
Then joining itself back in a ramrod concrete
Channel beneath pavement;
Then into the lake, sludge, great
Do you follow? It’s taking you somewhere, it matters
Not where, Pa, it’s a trip
At your command, inaudible.
It’s the postponed one
We would have scheduled in these winding down days
Together had we not been
What we made of us.
In the stagnant north woods.
In the pale thick end-of-knowing daylight.
Mark Levine has published three books of poems, most recently The Wilds (University of California Press, 2006). Recent poems have appeared in Poetry, Fence, Boston Review and elsewhere. His fourth collection, Travels of Marco, will be published in 2016. He teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.