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,