Season’s end

pond

He pitched a lure across the stern and watched

it land beneath the pines that bent along

the shore, then glanced toward the man at the bow.

“Are you OK?”

………

………… “I’m rid of those tubes,

ain’t I? Look boy, if you are planning to play

doctor all day, I’ll lend you my pocket knife–

who knows?–you might find something the quacks left behind.”

……..

“I know it was rough, but they’re just trying to help.”

He reeled the lure, with a tug on a weedy snag.

……

“Ya, so they kept telling me. The look of the bear’s

a little different once you’re inside the den.”

The old one tested his line for strength, attached

his bait and looked out over the lake. “Oh, no–”

…….

“What’s the matter?”

…….

………………….. “I don’t have a license to fish

in Canada; they’ll come take our gear for sure.”

……..

“Relax; this isn’t Canada. Hey, you sure

you’re OK?”

…….

…………. “Of course I’m OK. I may be old

and worn out, but I’m twice the fisherman

you’ll ever be. Now quit treating me like a girl

and stay out of my way.” He made his cast,

but sounds of passing geese in southward skeins

drew longing lines around his fading eyes.

He closed his coat against the autumn chill.

…….

The trees along the banks were once a stand

of heroes–having strength and will enough

to mock the fates that put them there–but now

they sunk as withered husks, as easy prey

for winter’s first harsh wind. The young man turned

and trembled. “Dad, are you afraid to die?”

…….

“For the love of– What the hell kind of question is that?

I swear I’ll never figure out why you

have to talk about everything all the time.”

…….

“I thought you’d want to talk. I thought it would help.

Forget it.”

……..

………….“Afraid I’ll leave you out of my will?”

…….

“Damn it all, Dad. You know better than that.”

He held his rod tip high, looking for a place

to make another cast. “I’ll tell you why.

I talk because I’m scared to death.”

…….

………………………………….“Of what?”

………

“Of what? Of what? Of all of it. Of you.

Of losing myself after you–”

……

………………………..“”That’s enough.”

………

“Hold on!”–he jerked the line to set the hook,

and pulled it tight to hold the fish he thought

he had caught. “It’s a big one. Quick, get the net.”

……

“Keep your rod up, line tight.”

……..

…………………………“I am. I am.

Must be twenty pounds or more. Listen to the drag

screamin’. You set with that net? She’s comin’ up.”

……..

“All set.” The old one leaned over the edge

and looked into the water. “What the hell

is that? Afraid, that ain’t a fish there, boy.”

…….

He pulled a dead, decaying goose in close

and worked to free the snag. “Oh, Dad– Poor thing.

The big old bird just couldn’t make it through

another year. He really fouled my line.”

……

“Hurry and cut it loose, damn it. Let it go.”

The old one laid down his rod and fixed his eyes

on the distant shore.

…………The young one cut the line.

……..

“I’ll miss you, Dad.”

…….

……………“Huh? What? What did you say?”

…….

“Nothing.”

…………The father looked at his son and a nod

of knowing eased them both. “Let’s go home, son.”