The Nest (Or, a Father Considers the Odds of Raising Successful Small-Mouth Bass Offspring)

That afternoon at the cabin

we sat by the river

after I had cut up those small trees

that you dropped at my feet with the tractor –

(an offering, a challenge,

one that I tore through haphazardly with the new chainsaw,

black and yellow like a drunken, terrible bumblebee).

It was quiet after all that noise,

the dog (our fourth) now gone, our offspring absent-

(one washing other people’s dishes in dirty water for $7.75 an hour,

one in the throes of new love, thrashing in the shallows, and then

one that has swum out to her own sea)

so we sat without them

on cheap and dirty plastic chairs

that had sat outside all winter

and swatted at mosquitoes,

talking a little but mostly just

watching the male bass

swim back and forth around its nest,

guarding the 20,000 – 

give or take a few hundred –

eggs ditched by the female – leaving him

to patrol the nest alone, watching for

panfish looking to gorge on eggs coming in from the left

while he is preoccupied with crayfish coming in from the right –

there are always more predators.

(Five bass fry will live long enough to grow ten inches long;

it’s better that the father not consider these odds,

yet, how can he not?)

A muskrat broke the perimeter –

rat-tail moving side to side like a pink snake, but

the bass didn’t break patrol.

A father knows, or thinks he knows, what is a threat.

Really, I had almost certainly just waded right through the nest

through the muck and rocks and branches

(a sweaty, mosquito-repellent covered Godzilla

sending translucent globes helplessly into the current).

But we kept watching the bass,

circling his trampled nest while the sun

slowly arced to the west, and north,

the surface of the river sparkling like

glass from a broken mirror.

Behind us, up the hill,

no one tended the fire;

and though it was light, still, for so long,

in that week leading up to the solstice,

it was too late for us

to go home.



Maybe he’s driving the Jeep through the Vietnamese jungle

strewn with tents and men trying to dry their socks

and men trying to get the cigarette to light and

men trying to tune in the radio signal and

men trying to find the words to

write a letter and trying most

of all not to die in that


country, or

maybe he’s just

holding the clipboard for the

general or colonel under the relentless



pushing through

the saturated haze far from

Racine County, far from County Galway, but

either way the story is that my dad would get so sunburned

in the middle of the sixties before the summer of Love, with his


freckled skin

that they put him

in a Jeep and told him to

look busy, so anyway that’s how

being Irish didn’t just save civilization like

Cahill wrote, but how it also maybe saved PFC Madden

from sniper fire or strafing rounds so he could leave behind

the countryside peeled of vegetation like sunburned skin from Agent


and meet

my fair-skinned

Norwegian mom over W2

forms at Walker Manufacturing,

holding ajar the door in the universe, just enough

for my sister and me, and now his fair and sun-screened grandchildren, to