Fish Poem by Matthew Coonan


After 4 hours on the lake, dad's bobber doesn't move an inch.
Suddenly, it dips, then again, then it plunges underwater like a submarine.
So he reels and tugs and reels and tugs and when he yanks that beast out the water, it's like this big.
And we laugh until breathing becomes a gift.
I'm grateful for every second the lake reflects this father-son cliche,
Dad, I don't wanna leave.
But the sun is dipping below the surface,
He says, "Son, your mothers making lasagna tonight, either get in the car or I'm leaving you here."

Every fishing trip, we retell that story and we talk about other things too,
Like the Yankees new line-up or my plans for after college,
But there's always a few questions left floating, you know like;
You ever fish here with your other son?
You know, the one that called yesterday and the day before and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Fathers Day,
You don't pick up, but warn me of a bloodline baited with broken promises.
Your brother isn't calling to say hi, he probably wants money,
So I let the phone ring, hear his voice tangle through the answering machine, I want to unravel him.


At Christmas, I hear old fisherman tales,
Drunk aunts whisper about the nephew with needle prick arms,
That boy loved how the hook pierced his skin,
It's like he kept trying to catch himself,
They say we look alike.
They say he might be in New York or back in Washington, they don't know.
Chris has always been a floater.

Swam to grandmas funeral though.
As the casket dipped, we tried to reel her spirit back,
And behind everyone, my brother stood still, camouflaged amongst the tombstones,
You know, the ones people just stop visiting after awhile.
At the reception, more tales unravel.
You know grandmas house was a fish tank? Yeah, she raised 9 guppies in that thing.
But when psychosis spread like an oil spill, she started to picture them floating.
The rest is just kind of hard to believe, you know like;
Fish drowning, or mother drowning child, or uncles body still floating somewhere.
They'd rather forget, just keep grandma away from water and don't ask questions.
Grandma, I have a question.
What's death like?
Is it like a sun dipping below the surface and never coming back.
Answer me, answer me grandma, answer the phone today.

Hello? Hi Ma-
Brother I-
Sounded like his head was bobbing underwater or something.
Dad, you remember that fish you caught?
How you yanked the hook from its gut and tossed it back?
It just floated, remember?
I know it's tradition to forget,
Forget the fish that swallow hooks in place of parenthood,
Just toss them back.
The only proof of my brother is stuffed in the back of a photo album,
Like the lure in the tackle box you don't use anymore.
But there's a trout mounted above the fireplace right next to my graduation picture.
Dad says "Now that's a keeper."

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