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.