At sunup I clamber after my father into the rusting pontoon, we cast a line each and the usual yellow litany of perch slowly emerges. These are easy; I name them and he nods. The water seethes, time stops: a walleye, zombie-blind and gaping, has taken my hookand soon sulks in the pickle bucket. The hook I pocket for luck, “hanging back” while father heads to town to ask about walleye restrictions at the filling station, stand in line for more nightcrawlers and the red ones (whose name I forget). Waiting, I cast into the shallows, perched
alone at pier’s edge, pull up one perch long as my palm, discover the hook lodged deep in its gullet. My name, called from the cabin, stops the fruitless tearing – father has returned, cuts my line and tosses him back. Good news, bud, the walleye
is legal to keep, he says, we’ll clean him with the rest. Walleye are new to me; I’ve learned sunfish, largemouth, perch, can tell pike from muskellunge (lines, not spots) – this from pictures, no hook of ours can touch one. Father insists that I learn the name
of anything we keep. The name of each picture-fish on the wall I know like prayers. A boost from my father lands me on the countertop, my perch for the spectacle. I hook thumbs in pockets and observe the seeping line
in the walleye’s white underbelly, blurring line after line of newsprint. A name, the fishslime knows, is a hook snagged in understanding. Dead walleye make sense, like pan-fried perch, loving son, fishing father.
The hook I soon misplaced; we ate the walleye in greasy mouthfuls. Yet the line cannot but carry on, I name perch, death, or your memory with ink-stained hands, father.