(after a line in Daigrepont’s Cajun Spiritual)
— for my uncle, Ray Rougeau
The last word I can picture you saying to me
was “Faith.” It sticks because you were never a man
people would call talkative, even before
the nurses wrote you down as unresponsive,
before they took your staring at the cracks
in the white walls of your room as some kind of loss.
They see in your eyes a man who would hand them back
anything they gave you without sign of recognition,
but every time you rest your eyes from the wall
to meet mine we are together on a popelier dock
in early fall, the sky flat-grey on the water.
A run of bull red has knocked the conversation
out of us, turning it all into cast and reel—
backbone and shoulders. The fish are so big
the only thing they hit is small crab
on shad rigs. We’ve already filled the boat
to near sinking, so you leave me there on the dock
to ride out our luck while you bring the first load
back to the camp to ice down. Alone, I live
a twelve-year-old’s dream: every time I cast
I land a big one to pile on the dock as testament
to the day. It is more than I can handle, more
than we deserve, but I keep pulling them in.
You return in time to see my rod
arc and the line give more than it has all day.
you watch me fight this monster patiently
and load the boat again. Almost by script,
just when I want to fold, the fish runs
straight at us, between the pylons under the dock.
With no sign of pause you take the rod from my hand
and toss it into the water. It is all I can do
not to follow it, a rig worth more allowances
than I can imagine lost for one fish
in a pile of one hundred just like it. You pull me near
and whisper the word mostly to yourself. Your eyes
stare calmly at something just below the surface
I can not make out. When the redfish comes around
to make its last run at the gulf, the rod follows
as if delivered by the hands of God.
In a single motion you catch it up
and pass it to me to finish out the day.
Before my line breaks and your stare returns
to the wall, I have a sense of what you mean:
Mettez votre vie dans les mains du Bon Dieu.