Natasha Trethewey

For my father

I think by now the river must be thick
        with salmon. Late August, I imagine it
as it was that morning: drizzle needling
        the surface, mist at the banks like a net
settling around us — everything damp
        and shining. That morning, awkward
and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked
        into the current and found our places —
you upstream a few yards and out
        far deeper. You must remember how
the river seeped in over your boots
        and you grew heavier with that defeat.
All day I kept turning to watch you, how
        first you mimed our guide’s casting
then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
        between us; and later, rod in hand, how
you tried — again and again — to find
        that perfect arc, flight of an insect
skimming the river’s surface. Perhaps
        you recall I cast my line and reeled in
two small trout we could not keep.
        Because I had to release them, I confess,
I thought about the past — working
        the hooks loose, the fish writhing
in my hands, each one slipping away
        before I could let go. I can tell you now
that I tried to take it all in, record it
        for an elegy I’d write — one day —
when the time came. Your daughter,
        I was that ruthless. What does it matter
if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting
        your line, and when it did not come back
empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,
        dreaming, I step again into the small boat
that carried us out and watch the bank receding —
        my back to where I know we are headed.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

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