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Afternoon on Slate Creek


                       After B.H. Fairchild


In his fifth summer, the boy fishes from a low

bank, his father next to him, Sumner County

awash in the rattle and whoosh of cottonwoods,

the crackle of grasshoppers stripping brush.


Behind them, cattle shuffle over clumps

of cactus and milkweed, rasping the ground

with their swollen tongues, moaning and hoofing

as if to hew rain from shorn grass and dirt.


From the west, a rumble. The father,

nearly sixty, squints skyward through cataracts,

sweat rippling his chin. When he looks

down, his son’s bobber jerks, then dives.

Pull ‘er in! he shouts. The boy cranes his pole,

hoists a perch into sunlight and shrieks.

The father unhooks the fish, holds

it in his palm so the son can finger

its soft, red gills, the cold snag of its mouth.


The storm drums closer. Locusts drill the air.

Crows caw. Stink-bait, slow water and creek-side 

weeds snake the boy’s nostrils, strike memory

as he runs his hand over fins and scales—

this moment, this place, his father’s face.



Appears in Ibbetson Street, Issue 45,  Summer 2019

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