On Munsungun

By Ethan Stebbins Ethan Stebbins
My father in the aluminum stern, cursing   
another fouled blood-knot: all the shits   

and fucks as integral to the art of fishing   
as the bait-fish, little silver smelts   

I sewed like a manual transmission,   
the same inbred order and precision

needling the leader through the ass,
out the mouth, through the jaw, out the nostril   

and back down—suffering as my father suffered
the bastard no-see-ums and the guttering Johnson

the obligatory dud, orange egg-pearls   
ballooning from its bust underside, hundreds of duds

like every shit-luck setback that drove us on,
fed by the huge image of everything   

we'd never caught, moving in joint blindness   
under Munsungun.
                         And whatever it was   
it was the fight that delivered us—a tension

like a sequestered muscle, the line
spooling, unspooling, the holy-shit-

litany pulled from our awed mouths
contracting with distance until a whole   

silence surfaced, the viscid, slapping body   
absorbing and reflecting raw light

like the bit of cornea above a pupil.
And then his tremendous, decent hands

brandishing an oar-butt; the brilliant lace   
of the gills, their crumpled hinge flaring

in bilge water; and the line, whipping
and shuttling, feeding invisibly back,

moving on on Munsungun, sons
survived by the same damn hunt they heired.

Source: Poetry (May 2005).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2005
 Ethan  Stebbins


Ethan Stebbins's work has appeared in the Hudson Review and the Dark Horse. He carries letters in Portland, Maine.

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