"Steelhead"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Nov. 15 2005 6:55 AM

"Steelhead"

Click here to listen to Dave Lucas read this poem. Morning spread of the lake, solemn; breath hangs in the airy chill like some speech balloon. But not a word

for hours now, just rock
and sweep of Erie seiche.
The line vibrates in the wind,
tuned pianissimo. Then
a hit—

jolt—fish on—the sudden
taut line, the familiar
struggle and thresh, slap
of water, fish out of water,
flapping, its flesh

a kaleidoscope of lake and light.
It falls back, and runs,
the reel zipping out more line
with each flex of dorsal
and caudal.

If we could see the eyes
or the blunt spade
of its head, we might claim
to see courage in them,
or spirit.

But what propels its
ten slick pounds
through the water is beyond
what we know of ourselves,
beyond

the education of the angler,
who lets out the line, then
pulls back, the give and take
of two odd lovers, until
the moment

when he jerks back,
when the water gives up
its silver cache.
And then the hollow drum
of fish

on boat. Now we can see
the black eyes, the snub-
nose and gunmetal scale,
the prehistoric fins
that keep on

treading phantom water.
The gills gape. It flips
itself over once, and stares
back with what must be called
defiance.

Dave Lucas received a 2005 "Discovery"/The Nation Prize. He lives in Cleveland.