Barbara Young


Water boils cold and clear through gravel sand
somewhere in eastern Kentucky, becomes more,
becomes a river. At the first dam, pools back, fills
the steep round valleys with fish. And sky. Steps down
from corps-created lake to lake, will meet
the bigger Ohio near the navel of waters.
We are in Tennessee; river’s turning into lake, summer into fall.
Sonar could display, below us tied to a snub red buoy,
the bed of Birdsong Creek. There’d have been a bank
here near where it joined the Tennessee, maybe limestone
it had worn smooth, maybe mud.

We’re in a small aluminum boat.
Welded seams a tactile evidence of construction.
It used to be green. A kid painted a name on it
“Green Star” with red paint. Some red remains.
Water, from this and that–spray of passage,
minnow bucket, dripping anchor and knotted rope–
settled in the downward, upward curve
smells algal, minnowish. The rim of the boat,
the gunnel, shines hot in the sun, below the water line
the metal is cool.

In the shallows a heron is fishing. A flock of yellow
like wild canaries. Jets leave contrails. Barges,
yoked in pairs–two, two, two, two, a football field afloat–
are pushed upstream or down and throw a wake wave
that lifts us, crumbs and the tablecloth, goes, slaps
the mudbank island top of a drowned hill. The buoy rocks,
the next up the creek rocks less.

We have lines in the water. We are fishing.

        “Father forgive us for what we must do.
        You forgive us, and we’ll forgive you.
        We’ll forgive eachother til we both turn blue
        then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven”
                        John Prine, Fish and Whistle

What can’t be forgotten
while faint vibrations communicate
        by way of steel, monofiliment, and braid
        by fingerprint and wrist, eye and lash
        from twenty feet down deep and murky
the fan of a fishtail

        will the leaves turn next October
        will the clock chime ten or stop at nine
        will the pain return
what can’t be forgotten, forgiven, fishing
oh, fortuna, whirling wheel
is too small.
Process Notes: “‘What Can’t Be Forgiven’ and ‘At the Mouth of Birdsong’ are part of a series in progress: Footnotes to a Photograph of My Father, Fishing.”

Barbara Young is from Nashville, Tennessee. She prefers fishing with minnows, not worms. She likes writing from prompts, and still mourns the website RWP which opened her eyes. Her poetry can be found at FredHerring.


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