Jones showed me three dice


Jones showed me three dice
held them in one hand
in front of my face
turn the hand
only one die remained

Mrs. Smith cooking
screen door breezeway
hear her in there
always talking
East Texas in the kitchen
fresh greens from the sandy soil
sweet corn
mashed potatoes
fried channel cat
some bream
chess pie

there with Mr. Eliot
nightfishing on the pier
he called my grandfather Cal
and my grandfather called him Skinny
and he was
showed me how to form a ball
of stinkbait on a treble hook
how to cast
with the sinker set up high
sose that bait would sit up
off the bottom of the lake

mercury light
on the black water
frogs scream and glug
across the lake
vast cricket chorus
sprayed out Milky Way
spilled over the above
reflection on the water
big things out there
breaking surface
feeding on stars

my rod tugs
like a question mark
my grandfather raises an eyebrow
Skinny says quiet
slow slow just let him think he's got it
I can feel the depths of the lake
pulling the line
across every ridge of my thumb
sounding out my intention
slow slow now says Mr. Eliot
he's just dancin widdit
just dancin widdit
wait til he make his move
like a thief in the night
thinkin hes gone get away
tug pull tug boom
straight down the line
bowing the rod way over
my grandfather
and Mr. Eliot saying
set that hook son
play it out now
now bring him in

My grandfather showed me
how to hold the catfish
big as my arm
spiney black fins
between the fingers of both hands
don't get stuck with those said Skinny
they hurt you somethin
we had to use needle-nose pliers
to get the hook out
the catfish shuddering in my grip
its smooth skin seeming
to have a writing I couldn't figure
my grandfather saying
thats a biggun
be good eatin said Skinny
then the catfish croaked
like it was trying
to speak
startled me such
that I dropped it
flopped all crazy
and I reached to get it
watching not
to get stung on the fins
and was too late
cause it flipped itself back
into the water

both hands spread open
and my arms wide
a picture of loss
I turned from the water
back to my grandfather
and Mr. Eliot
and they both broke out
into such a laughter
that I started too
but didn't feel it

at breakfast the next morning
the tale was told
for the table
Mrs. Smith spooning
scrambled eggs onto my plate
bends down to ask
honey whatid that catfish
say to you to get you to let him go?
and I said
he didn't have time to say nothin
fore I dropped him
and he got away
and everyone laughed again

And Mr. Smith
everyone called him Gerald
says I used to have a catfish
that would come out of the water
when I whistled
maybe he learned
how to talk
and that's the same fella
you caught last night
and there was more
and everyone thought
it a grand story to
tell in my presence
from then on out

I remember how
Jones shook his head sadly
when I told him about the fish
said I had to be careful now
cause that fish would tell
all the others
about me
and that now everytime
I caught a fish
it was gonna try to talk
me into letting it go
I didn't know if
he was joking me

he put his hand
in front of my face
turned it
and appeared a single die
from thin air
and put it in my palm
said you gone need it now
put that in your tackle box
to keep them fish quiet

I didn't know
Skinny Eliot
saw it all
from where he was
sitting in his boat
in the boathouse
saw me put the die
in my tackle box
when I looked up
to see that he was watching
I was embarrassed
but he only nodded at me
and went back
to what he was doing