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?

More by Bruce Beasley

Fishers

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.