On The Herring Net
Two men are in a wooden boat--
a father and son perhaps--
slick with the spray of saltwater,
heads and bodies bowed
as they haul a netful of silver-
bellied herring over the gunwale.
I cannot see their hands, though
I imagine them expertly unhooking
the fish from the net, thimble-fingered
and intent beneath the muddy sky.
They are not here; they died over
a century ago, if they ever lived at all.
When I was young, we camped
on the shore of Lake Sebago.
I had just read a story in which
a child's toys came alive as he slept,
and I was busy imagining a new world
of living things just beyond my sight.
The trees spoke to each other, passed
signals through intertwined roots
like phone wires; the butterflies’ wings
beat in Morse code, and beneath the silver-
blue stillness of the lake, bass skirted
among the tall, green weeds, warning
each other of my father’s gleaming hook.
This morning, I read that Benjamin Spock
“found childhood” back in 1963 and wonder--
Where was it before then? Were we all
like the fishermen in Homer’s painting,
teetering on the edge of our boats, deaf
to the swells of a violent sea and the whispered
songs of the fish below? Just last week,
the mothers lost their children. We pried
their small, warm bodies from their arms,
like herring from a net. And I remember
my father grilling the big-mouth over the fire,
the horror as he hooked his calloused finger
beneath the fixed, dead eye of the fish, popped
it from the socket, and swallowed it whole.
Tracy McNamara teaches English and Creative Writing at a public high school in New Jersey. She is currently pursuing a MA in Creative Writing and Literature.
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