The land used to be pastureland, purchased by my father’s family in 1841 to graze dairy cows. In the early 1900s they converted it for recreation, building cottages along the banks of the river in sight of the rapids that existed before construction of the Seaway.
Two islands that were named for dad’s ancestors have been disappeared under the surface since the Authority raised the water levels for the shipping channel. A hazard to navigation buoy marks their presence.
My grandmother planted pine trees in the boggy land between the road and the river and they’ve grown tall in the decades and harbor deer and the occasional family of red foxes.
A nesting pair of bald eagles has made a home in the islands across the river and loons come in the spring before the boat traffic gets too heavy. Wild turkeys run on the islands too and when the great blue herons spread their wings overhead they look like flying dinosaurs.
The water is as clear as it has ever been and you can see the pike waiting in ambush or the bass hugging structure by the dozens or the giant carp or the chub schooling on the shoals like bonefish. Put in the time, you think, and they’ll be there. They’ve adapted and survived over the centuries but you can never shake the feeling that at any moment one doomed freighter can take it all away.
There is always that moment, upon first contact, where it feels like it’s going to be a much bigger fish. These panfish with their broad profiles are wont to do that, to turn against the pull and create drag…like a drift anchor. The Mayans down in Florida do it and then they wedge their bodies into the weedy growth on bottom and it’s like pulling a stuck Danforth. Hope the knot’s 100 percent because it’s a shame to lose a fly to a bastard little widebody.
Overall, going sideways would be a pretty good life lesson if you’re inclined to think of it that way…fight the power in panfish metaphor. I’m not so inclined; I’ll take the jumping bass and whatever meaning goes with that.
The convenience store at the gas station had an aromatic little kitchen tucked into the corner, behind the registers, so there was no way to resist buying an empanada.
I have heard two working theories about the prevalence of spices in meat dishes of tropical origin. But whether the spices harbor antibiotic properties or trigger cooling perspiration seemed beside the point: I’d already built a sweat from walking the canal perimeter.
I like to fish the culverts and the dead ends where the water is a mirror that shatters upon impact, after the fish jumps out of it to escape what’s fighting against it only to be pulled back under by gravity. Five minutes later it is a mirror again. (Thank the miracle of surface tension.) The next interruption comes from the far gentler landing of a size two ensconced in craft fur. It causes tiny ripples to pulse outward in concentric circles.
Fresh water is the most under-appreciated aspect of the Florida experience. (They wanted to drain the entire swamp in the 19th century, the sonsabitches.) But there’s also food. Key lime pie made with real key limes, moros y cristianos, ropa vieja, country grits and collard greens, Bahama bread and cracked conch and grilled pompano that your neighbor gave you.
The trick to Cuban coffee is the espuma–the foam they make with sugar and a little just-percolated espresso. This little cafe next to a barbershop in Miami Beach makes it perfect. They pass it over the counter with four plastic shot glasses but I just drink it straight from the styrofoam cup.
I follow the PEN America Center on Facebook and the organization posted this great quote last week:
“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”
― Galway Kinnell
Poetry gets a bad rap for being soft, or whatever, but it stuck for me in college because of a professor I had named Peter Balakian who was such a cool cat in that he liked watching the NY Giants and fishing for fluke and was friends with Ginsburg and Derek Walcott and showed there’s no one way or the other you have to be. Plus he touted Bob Dylan as a great American poet.
On that note: He’s talking about songwriting, but this quote from Steve Earle in the Nashville episode of Sonic Highways struck too in how words can work in the way Kinnell expressed it. Earle said,
“The only part of your experience that anybody gives a shit about, is the experience that they go, ‘Oh, yeah, that happened to me and that sucked..or, that happened to me and it was great.”
With that in mind here’s a couple links to some people putting it down about fishing. A couple are not poems in the technical sense but to me they read like poetry: