by David Martin

A fishing reel had drag, a word I'd heard
for eight years fishing and still it didn't
mean anything -- it was some complex idea
in physics involving surface tension
and fish. One August Dad rented a two buck
painter at Sugarloaf and as we slid into the water
he said it was too hot to fish the middle, all the
fish would be too deep and so he rowed us
along the marshy shore. We skimmed the murky
shallows, long weeds hissing the hull, the oars
thumping bottom. We snaked the boat through cattails
and lily pads and the shimmer of insects. We slicked
and thudded until we reached a cove cluttered
with fallen willows. I dropped the coffee can
anchor and we nudged the shore and Dad opened
a cottage cheese carton of nightcrawlers and I
pulled out a bronze and curling one and punctured it
on my hook and threw it out. "Watch out for snags,"
Dad said, and as I reeled in for another cast
I felt a slight tug, a resistance, and the pole bent.
I pulled again, really reefing, and this time
the line gave and I felt the lumpish stuff
coming in, a clump of weeds. I hauled it in
and picked off the jellied slop and hooked
another worm. This time I hit the lily pads
and yanked a leaf clear out of the water
before my line snapped. I stood up and pissed
in a Squirt bottle and dumped it overboard,
then tied on a new hook and bobber and
pinched on a lead weight with the pliers. Dad said
"Watch out for the snags" and I said okay
and threw another worm into the air. It landed
with a smack in the willows. I could feel Dad's eyes
glaring on the marsh. "Another snag," he said,
and I waited for him to say something,
anything, how to cast, the secret lives
of bluegill, or that I was a dumbshit
but he just cut the line and sent a perfect
cast next to the willows and I pulled up
a cattail all wet and oozing with slime and eggs
and I looked at the cove of dead water
and bubbles trickling up from the muck, water striders
skating and green dragon flies nicking the surface
and I wondered exactly what it was
about fishing that I wasn't getting.
I looked down at the sunfish and bluegill
in the bottom of the boat. That was pure
truth, it seemed to me, the slow gasping gills,
the last flip or tail spasm, the black eyes
gaping, their gleaming rainbow scales. They smelled
of marsh muck and rot. Everything else, the lake,
the willows, the lily pads, everything
was fake, something unseen, something stupid
to get snagged on, caught up in the world's
treachery. Something to fear and fear fearing.

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