Elegy ["I think by now the river must be thick"]

For my father

I think by now the river must be thick
        with salmon. Late August, I imagine it

as it was that morning: drizzle needling
        the surface, mist at the banks like a net

settling around us — everything damp
        and shining. That morning, awkward

and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked
        into the current and found our places —

you upstream a few yards and out
        far deeper. You must remember how

the river seeped in over your boots
        and you grew heavier with that defeat.

All day I kept turning to watch you, how
        first you mimed our guide's casting

then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
        between us; and later, rod in hand, how

you tried — again and again — to find
        that perfect arc, flight of an insect

skimming the river's surface. Perhaps
        you recall I cast my line and reeled in

two small trout we could not keep.
        Because I had to release them, I confess,

I thought about the past — working
        the hooks loose, the fish writhing

in my hands, each one slipping away
        before I could let go. I can tell you now

that I tried to take it all in, record it
        for an elegy I'd write — one day —

when the time came. Your daughter,
        I was that ruthless. What does it matter

if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting
        your line, and when it did not come back

empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,
        dreaming, I step again into the small boat

that carried us out and watch the bank receding —
        my back to where I know we are headed.

Natasha Trethewey, "Elegy" from Thrall. Copyright © 2012 by Natasha Trethewey.  Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Source: Thrall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
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