Poetry Dispatch No. 26 | November 11, 2005
Back-to-back poems by Bart Sutter (author of the previous Poetry Dispatch #26, “The Third Use of the Penis”) for readers who may have felt that poem ‘light reading’. To quote from the back cover of the book in which that poem and the following poems appear: “…Drawing from the narrative, formal tradition of Robert Frost and E.A. Robinson’s poems, Sutter’s poems are full of the grist of rural life,—old farms, old shops, wild mushrooms, beaver dams, roadside bars and eccentric but vital people. His verse is so sharp and unforced that its underlying artistry risks vanishing in epiphany.” Norbert Blei
FISHING AT FORTY (for Louis Jenkins) by Barton Sutter
We got ourselves up
For one last trip, gathered our gear,
Kissed the women goodbye, and drove
A hundred miles under smoldering skies.
Decorated with yellow leaves,
The lake was a mosaic of reflections
Where we drifted, casting this way and that,
Like someone searching his mind for an answer.
What was it you wanted
Back there in your twenties?
A woman writhing and moaning your name?
The nod and good word of a man you admired?
Wishes and dreams had come to pass,
And still you felt like a failure.
The woods had promised visions once,
But what you got was what was there:
Spiced air and silence, mist on the water …
You got what you brought: sausage and cheese,
Your own foggy thoughts, passing
Brandy around the fire. And what was left,
What had you saved for your later years?
The consolation of memories? Insomnia? Disease?
You might still put together some words
That would last. But aging meant gradually giving up
All you loved best: tobacco and liquor,
Reading and sex. In the end, in the home, you’d refuse
Even food, groaning and waving the tray away.
I caught one fish, a small rainbow,
And held him high for my pal to admire.
The shimmer, the sheen, the shine of a trout!
Then rain dotted down. We made for shore,
Where I gutted the fish, tore out his gills,
And left the red mess for the coons to devour.
What next? Nothing to do but drive
The back roads, pull at the whiskey,
Stare through the rain, and wish it would quit.
Car-fishing, we called it.
You didn’t catch much, but you didn’t get wet.
We nosed through the bush, jounced over rocks,
Swerved around deadfalls, splashed
Through mudholes, planning, complaining …
The lake we wanted never appeared.
We took the wrong roads,
Misread the map, and just like that
Our season was over. The rain had eased off,
But the daylight was gone. We found
The highway and turned toward home. Wind
Whipped wet leaves through the headlights.
The branches of birches flashed by
Like lightning. Quick as a thought,
A coyote shot across the road and into the woods.
So a man over forty thinks of his death—
Quickly, several times each day.
My friend groaned out
The words to a song about “easy lovin’,”
Though he knew it wasn’t. Weary,
We wondered whether the trip had been worth it.
I thought of my rainbow back in the cooler,
Already losing his pinks and blues,
His silver and steel; the whiskey
Behind the seat, half gone;
The long, hard winter coming on.
from THE BOOK OF NAMES, New and Selected Poems, BOA Limited Editions.