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.

 

Unleashed (A Sonnet)

First winter snow has tripped and falls and falls,

I lace my boots and take my sheltered lens;

Behind me, windows throw a yellow pall

of slanted patches on white-trousered lawns;

Snow stills the trees and fills the prints of those

who walked ahead along the unlit road;

We will not meet, my pace unhurried slows –

four paws and to his right the man who strode;

Since nothing tells the story of the leash

that bound the dog to man and back again,

I break the plane, the unseen line I breach – 

No sound it makes, the freedom I pretend;

my shutter quiet here above the snow –

belated, now I walk this road alone.

Fine Ruin (Bicycles in Munich)

I.

What happens

To the bicycles in Munich;

The ones punctuating the cobblestone paths –

Locked to the bike racks, lampposts, street signs

In sun, rain, sleet, snow, heat

Wheels bent into parentheses,

Or missing entirely,

Or outwardly fine,

Frames rusted, scratched, or gleaming,

Just

Forgotten about entirely

locked up and misremembered

rented and abandoned at the stair skirting of the Hauptbahnhof

Or maybe the rider shortly after the penultimate click of the lock

Struck by a bus or a train or a taxi,

felled by a quietly faulty heart ,

pierced by a knife in a lovers’ quarrel,

The chained bicycle a marker, a memo, a clue, the very last thing before.

What happens to them?

Does the orderly Munich Municipality

Sweep through with lock breakers, breaking free

Those bikes that have been stationary for a week, a month, a year –

Off to auction, to the junkyard, to repair shops, to nowhere?

Or do they just silently break down, unclaimed

As the seasons ebb and flow

and the years pile up against the stones, unswept

while other bikes come and go, come and go;

do they just

Fade, fade against the dying of the light?

II.

In Munich for Oktoberfest,

I am curious to see whether I still am who

I thought I was, even though I am

Halfway to 90,

(A new post to which to chain myself);

But meanwhile

My youth wandered off,

Having forgotten about me ;

Though I am if not beautiful, willowy, tall, then

Handsome enough,

And strong,

Enough for some fine young German men

And men from around the world

to stop; and if they stop then perhaps

I catch them with my cleverness,

And my practiced nonchalance,

Especially if it is dark

And especially if they are

Drunk.

III.

Surely, my youth cannot leave me here

with these adamantine silver chains,

But it does, and what’s more walks away without

A backwards glance

With its hair untouched by gray

And heart uncrushed by the unknowable, menacing future,

And mind and memory with more room to go than has gone before

I

Almost don’t begrudge it but

the cold metal chain lies close and heavy and loose,

like apathy or an afterthought

And I feel myself bending ,

And the slow, certain spread of rust

Like fine lace, some predatory and fibrous ossification,

choking algae on a placid lake,

whispers of ruin when the glass is half full

And I know that no one will come by to break the locks,

And I know what happens to us all.

Catch and Release

This poet pinned

behind his ’63 Smith Corona

at the art fair; he tilts his hat and waits for you

To come, to ask him to free this poem

not yet written, the one now held hostage

inchoate in the fractal web of ether-

He’ll lure it onto the page with whispers and worn

keys clacking, zing, and

you’ll pay the ransom, let it loose in the world where it isn’t

yet, it will go with you, has been caught

in the net of your dreams now- but

as for him, he stays and

watches the sky and

waits patiently for the inevitable

return of the endless flock of words,

migrating north again in long vees,

honking;

He calls them in one by one, they

surround his head in a cloud of invisible bees, they

clamber up out of the hives but he tamps them

down – not unkindly – while he waits

For others to come by with coins

or teas or stories to trade –

He finally frees them one by one, now strung together like

Spun glass beads around a lonely neck – juniper,

echo, conduit, fairy tale, copper, trolley,

mitochondria, ginger,

melancholy, amber

Words

That have come to us

As if by some prior arrangement, have leapt over

some wrinkled fold in the universe, have caught

a wandering ride on a draft from some butterfly

wing’s from the time before, were called

in for dinner as dusk deepened and settled

in the long grass,

landing among us

like truth

like fireflies,

carrying darkness,

carrying light.