Remembering walleye

Michael O’Brien

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.

-Michael O’Brien

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