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catfish dinner
i

You thanked him for his sacrifice, but it
wasn’t a willing one, and he couldn’t have known
that soon he would go the way of all fish,
having never dreamed that the face of death
could look so callow. I lifted him up
by his tethered gill onto the cutting board.
His eye never flinched as I made edges
of his middles, and ended the dream of life
from which he had never awakened, even
at the edge of death, death undreamed of.

Of course there was moonlight, and of course it burned
the lids right off my eyes, no doubt because
it made your hair shimmer like falling snow.
You even forgave me when I took your hand
in my bloody hand, fresh from the dead fish.

Eben angled him with his feet and netted
him with his arm that's there and swore the bastard
spit in his eye. “I reached for him with my arm that
isn't there and touched a fish that wasn't
there,” he said as he passed the catfish up from
the boat. He told you once and so you knew
he reached through time with the arm that wasn't there.
He felt the vanished muscles ache and twitch.
He reached through vaults of ordinary stone.
He touched the dead face of his own mortality.
You saw the boy, the disappearing boy,
who remembered in his bones. We dined on catfish
that night, and piece by piece he disappeared.

ii

Voices and footsteps, along the walk and up
the steps and into the alcove. This moment has a voice
that will be in my ear until I die.

That moment in time at the lake
when I dug for bait and sliced a worm in two
with the spade, you said the tail would grow
another head and the head would grow a tail,
like a simile, or like a memory.
And when I bled with the fish onto the cutting board
one gushing tap ran cool, and the other
pulsed like a voice that stained the air with metaphor,
or with all the necessary poetry of life.

With pants rolled to our knees and ankle deep
in barefoot mud, we seined the pond for bait
or for the hell of it. As Eben with both
his arms pulled from one bank and I pulled from
the other, you and leaping fish splashed light
like exploding time into the air, blooms of water
and your life shimmering in the sun. Circles
across the sun, three faces in the lake,
yours, mine, Eben's, clouds around our shoulders
like mantles, those days of rippling skies.

I read your diary yesterday, and found
flat between the pages the honeysuckle
I fetched down for you from a tree top years
ago, when we were almost younger than
I can imagine now. And I found worms
and growing tails and heads, and metaphors
and singing moments, all the fine art
of living and remembering, pulsing
on a cool white page, like blood from a pen.

If I gather you up and lay you across
a page and arrange your limbs and smooth your brow,
I lose you to the turning of a page. Your life. Stops.

This moment has a voice that I will hear
until I die. We lift you up and step
along the walk among the choirs of leaves
and moments, to carry you to the place where stone
will seal what time has sealed already.

iii

There is an eye in my glasses that looks back
at me. Mazie, old and blind, seems to peer through
reflections in the windowpane, as if
through smoke, and lifting her head from the sill,
follows with her eyes something she cannot
see in her redundant night. Her tail quivers.
When she dreams, she dreams of running. For joy.

– Randy Wilson