Vain to fish
with unbaited hook,
the proverb says.  I fished that way,

at 9, after Sunday School at Trinity Presbyterian, as God said
(my schizophrenic, periodically
catatonic uncle and preacher said)
thou shalt not kill, so I would kill
neither lake bass nor earthworm, thought the Lord
was watching that rowboat and testing
me, like Job or Abraham, to see if I’d break
some covenant we’d made
I couldn’t remember making,

dreaded that like Joan of Arc I’d be summoned
someday in my backyard, under the pecan tree’s
velvet greenfuzzed litter, to leave
Alexander III 3rd grade to go
and raise an Army
to end the napalm flamethrow jungleburn
Walter Cronkite told me about

so for hours in the rowboat with my father
who’d left his own war without ever going to combat
to Travel Mental Troop to psychiatric
discharge after six months and told his family
he’d been the sole survivor
of a kamikaze-bombed carrier,

my unbaited hook would twitch along the lake bottom’s
algae slime, my earthworm snuck back into bucket-writhe.
He couldn’t know I was deceiving him for the Lord,
humiliated on my behalf
that hour after hour I got
not even a line-tug. It
humiliated me to disappoint that Pacific hero.
And this is how we did it, outings
of Father and Son; fishing
for each other, with unbaited hooks.

 

More by Bruce Beasley

Unbehold

Lord Nelson's hand, blasted
off by musket-fire at Tenerife,
stayed clutched into a fist

in the gap below his stump,
the unbeholdable
fingers stabbing

their ever-longer nails
into his palm. Daily
in the amputated place

the gone
fingers cut deeper
into the gone & welted

skin. If a hand
can outlast
its shearing-off & still

inflict its scratch & cramp,
he thought, how much
more must the soul

go on when the whole
body's a phantom
body, rid

of all but
its spirit's
fist-kinks & stabs?

Related Poems

Deception Story

 

Friends describe my DISPOSITION

as stoic. Like a dead fish, an ex said. DISTANCE

is a funny drug and used to make me a DISTRESSED PERSON,

one who cried in bedrooms and airports. Once I bawled so hard at the border, even the man with the stamps and holster said Don’t cry. You’ll be home soon. My DISTRIBUTION

over the globe debated and set to quota. A nation can only handle so many of me. DITCHING

class, I break into my friend’s dad’s mansion and swim in the Beverly Hills pool in a borrowed T-shirt. A brief DIVERSION.

My body breaking the chlorinated surface makes it, momentarily, my house, my DIVISION

of driveway gate and alarm codes, my dress-rehearsed DOCTRINE

of pool boys and ping pong and water delivered on the backs of sequined Sparkletts trucks. Over here, DOLLY,

an agent will call out, then pat the hair at your hot black DOME.

After explaining what she will touch, backs of the hands at the breasts and buttocks, the hand goes inside my waistband and my heart goes DORMANT.

A dead fish. The last female assist I decided to hit on. My life in the American Dream is a DOWNGRADE,

a mere DRAFT

of home. Correction: it satisfies as DRAG.

It is, snarling, what I carve of it alone.

The Song in the Dream

The song itself had hinges. The clasp on the eighteenth-century Bible
had hinges, which creaked; when you released the catch, 
the book would sigh and expand.

The song was of two wholes joined by hinges, 
and I was worried about the joining, the spaces in between 
the joints, the weight of each side straining them.

My Father on His Shield

Shiny as wax, the cracked veneer Scotch-taped 
and brittle.  I can't bring my father back. 
Legs crossed, he sits there brash 

with a private's stripe, a world away 
from the war they would ship him to 
within days.  Cannons flank his face 

and banners above him like the flag 
my mother kept on the mantel, folded tight, 
white stars sharp-pointed on a field of blue. 

I remember his fists, the iron he pounded, 
five-pound hammer ringing steel, 
the frame he made for a sled that winter 

before the war.  I remember the rope in his fist 
around my chest, his other fist 
shoving the snow, and downhill we dived, 

his boots by my boots on the tongue, 
pines whishing by, ice in my eyes, blinking 
and squealing.  I remember the troop train, 

steam billowing like a smoke screen. 
I remember wrecking the sled weeks later 
and pounding to beat the iron flat, 

but it stayed there bent 
and stacked in the barn by the anvil, 
and I can't bring him back.