Nature, red in tooth and claw
In Memoriam—Alfred Lord Tennyson
For the life of me, I can’t fathom why my son
spends hours floating by a breakwater protecting
New Haven’s harbor from Long Island Sound.
Trailing an eel or sand worm, Todd crams
his six feet, five inches into an orange kayak,
only to catch and release. If he were sensible,
thrifty like me, he’d utilize his time, stock up
on filets from blues or stripers. How can he fish
not for the meat but for the solitude, to nourish
his spirit? Tonight, it may have been a return
to childhood need to impress his father and me
that prompted him to bring back a striped bass
over forty inches long. Watching Todd hoist it
like bagged top soil for my camera, I figure—
fifty pounds. Calling the fish, she—it was too fat
to be a male—my son tries to return life he’s taken
back into the water. All elbows, wading by touch
in the pewter cove, slow dancing with the striper,
Todd holds her tail for well over a half an hour.
Because mosquitoes are biting his neck, I resist
saying the fish will end up a floater a day later.
Responding to my silent cheerleading on our deck,
she does not swim. I’d learned to rationalize death
of what I eat in a Siem Reap market while watching
a Buddhist Cambodian woman who would not kill
in order to eat flesh. Admiring fish just hauled out
of Tonle Sap, a large freshwater lake anchoring
the town’s southerly tip, she said a carp would be
perfect for a curry. Her mouth covered by one hand,
she mumbled it was too bad the fish was still alive.
The fishmonger caught up to her as she paused
at another stall shouting out the miracle—the carp
had suddenly died! Having given up on a resurrection
in the cove, my son appears to tease the striped bass
back to life separating skin with his knife, slicing
from behind the gill plate to the bottom of the spine.
Curious about what it’s eaten, plunging into the guts,
Todd pulls out a whole lobster then another claw.
To show off my Victorian PhD, I give my son a quick
course on Darwin’s Origin of Species. Even though
I know what he will find, I quote from In Memoriam:
we trust that somehow good /Will be the final goal
of ill. Blood slicking forearms, his hand probing, Todd
will feel how firmly the heart roots before it gives way.
–from All of Your Messages Have Been Erased © 2010
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