View from
Poetry

Fly Fishing

“What does it bring to light?/What meaning is there to land?/Have you killed a bit of me? I doubt it.”

1

You’re the first person—are? were?—

The first I’ve known

Who killed himself—well, sort of

Known—through meeting,

Talking, working with a little:

As much as that counts as knowing.

You’re not the first I’ve heard of.

I’ll use “are”—or maybe “weren’t” is best—

There’s a knot in my fingers here.

And “who killed himself” feels

Wrong: before and after make

No sense. But do I need to, or can I,

Untangle this? It’s tied, firm,

Part of the given braid, not

Of my making: joining this, the material

In my hand to what’s light, invisible

In the water, afloat on the stream.

Who else is there? Is? Was? What

An untidy line: how loosely, how slack,

It falls. There has been a friend of a friend,

And I know I’ve been told of more:

Someone whose business I often pass

Shot himself just the other day.

Who was it who mentioned it?

The point is, they lie in the mind,

Out of the usual daylight—seemingly

Idling, half invisible in their shadows—

Then sudden in their stirring:

There when you look for them.

 

2

But you struck me—the fact of

Your death, that is—struck at me

In a grab, a snatch, of memory:

I thought, “I knew him.” The name

In the paper, the man who leapt—

Who was seen in a moment

Of clarity high in the unusual air—

And that place and moment impossible

To sustain—and fell under the wheels

Of a train. A high-speed train?

Commuter train? Something like:

It had some description of its own—

Some color thought appropriate

To tie to the story—a lurid spot

Set afloat on the passing stream,

Chosen to catch the eye, the mind,

In a jerk of actuality: something

Set to take hold of one’s drifting attention.

There’s nothing I can add to what’s

Reported. You jumped. You’d lost—

Or your fund had lost what

Was weighty enough and seemed

Secure, there on the end of the line,

In the general tumult, common liquidation.

You were part of the financial news,

A human face to put on the numbers:

It’s why you had the coverage—

Drawn into general sight, almost

Into significance—as a flash

Of living color—you gave

A glimpse, it could be thought, of life.

Journalists, PR types, I’ve noticed,

Like to call the markets “brutal.”

It gives the events—the fluidity, movement,

Loss of money—its flickering numbers—

Their evanescent brilliance,

The bright, moving flecks and dapplings—

Characterization, excitement

Of a sort, something like physicality:

Bite. It makes what’s otherwise

Intangible—dark to most eyes, possibly

Usually dull—as it were more real. Can there

Be “more real?” Reality of a sort perhaps.

Whatever it is, it got through to you.

 

3

There was, I can see, an ending there,

A result of thought, of its uncertain activity,

And I can imagine other endings

Taking shape—trite, expected, moralistic—

All the common landings. I’ve come

To think that to look ahead, to anticipate,

Is to invite failure: ideas rise in the mind,

In their own instinct, but it’s will, determination,

Surely that matters. Always there’s the chance—

Almost the pull—of shooting

Past actuality to a general

Thought. But truth lies

In its habitual depth: beneath seeming,

The usual look, the shown. It can be

Hunted though—so I’m learning—

With practice, sufficient care and time.

It’s why I feel there’s something hidden,

To be found, in these reflective shadows:

A glimpse perhaps or capture of what

Lies, what lives, out of sight. For this rose—

The prompt to my reflection—in nothing

Of the here and now, but in the fact

That you and I as children

Played—unknown to each other—

On a common stretch of lakefront,

Under the same willows,

And on the wide grass reserve,

The mounds of sand, beside and between

The mouths of the fishing streams

That then set limits to our wandering.

You and I, meeting, talked about it

Briefly with surprise, amusement,

Perhaps some slight embarrassment:

A few minutes’ pretence,

Recalling what in truth we may

Have never shared. The fact we roamed,

As boys of a similar age, around

The same shores, unknown to each other,

The same half-dozen summers,

The other side of the world,

Was no hook to friendship,

But a lightly handled surfacing,

Nothing we were prepared

To tighten on or let run,

And one we both let go.

The discovery, as I remember it,

Was a prompt to another game—

Involving tact—not unlike

The cautious care children

Bring to introductions

Forced on them—a sort of circling,

Drifting, curling around something

Lying in private depths, our lines

Coming in and out of focus:

For talk of being children

Had no use in our professionalism.

It was not what we had come to share.

Why this pulling at me now?

 

4

Our meeting was in London, after all,

Far from our childhoods, any of its streams,

And the surprising fact is, you jumped

When I was back there: the week

That I was passing through. Back there?

How to reach, to fix, on the upstream?

It is another attempt at accuracy

That fails. I cannot place any thought,

Memory, exactly—with intentional precision—

Where there is constant movement:

Everything is swept forward, all is

Running away. But your boss, the chairman—

I have a clear idea of him—

Wrote a note to me when I chose

To turn for home. I could look it out

Sometime: It’ll be floating somewhere

Obvious, as everything written is.

I have no comparable hold

On anything when it comes to you.

But you stayed—you were high-powered,

More so than me—and must have

Loved what the environment gave.

Or were you held? By family? Friends?

Prestige? The money? The excitement

Of high prosperity? Whatever

It was, it certainly slipped its pull.

Things do. And not always in sudden

Loss. They lose attachment, fall away,

Drift off in the flow of the new. Look at this:

What point is there to any attempt at recall,

Re-creation? The fact I knew—half

Knew—someone who had

A connection with my childhood,

With the lake where I grew up:

What does it bring to light?

What meaning is there to land?

Have you killed a bit of me? I doubt it.

 

5

But this is true. I was there on Monday,

Just on dawn, to fish a stream

Not five minutes walk

From where we lived. And

Perhaps it’s this that’s pulling at me:

The feel of my own childhood, not you,

Your death, but something of my own,

Felt but uncertainly, a tugging,

Some subtlety of feeling rising below

The present, the visible,

In motion and in obscurity.

For an hour and more I walked the bank,

Fished the pools—saw, at times, slim

Shadowy backs, in twos and threes,

Saw the order they kept—the occasional

Flick of a tail below my curling,

Passing lines. And in this work too,

I know the joy, the patient play,

In the cast, the light landing, of a fly

On dark, moving water—the drift

Downstream, the knowledge—

At times, the sight—of trout lying

Over weed—but joy is not exact, complete:

There is still some quarry that I seek

In your suicide, the chance

Of our meeting, the link

With the lake where we had played.

I reel these words off, feel their weightless

Purchase as I turn them over

In the mind. There’s nothing to retrieve.

My attempts at sense come back empty,

Lightweight, or trailing weed.

In the sun, my net folded, bagged,

I strolled the lakefront with my rod,

Saw the house we lived in—

Now a fishing lodge—saw how

The neighboring roads and houses

Are all in place and altered,

Some done up, most decayed. Weatherboard

Near water rots without constant care.

 

6

The timber mill’s pulled down, its tall,

Familiar furnace vanished, the high,

Continual whine of saws long silenced.

The remaining sheds squat amid

Loose corrugated iron, rusting steelwork,

Abandoned timber, a stack of great, black axles.

The jobs the village had (a man came from

The machinery shop, where they fixed forklifts,

Other gear, when I was passing, about sixteen,

And offered me work, just like that)

All those have gone. The stony acres

Gathering junk were piled once

With stacks of sweet, fresh-cut boards.

I played among them with a wooden gun,

Hunting nothing that I could name.

The lake’s a mess. The water’s thick,

Grey, mixed with sewage, run-off

From the farms—effluent, fertilizer—

Breeding weed. The year I left school—

I’ve just searched the story and the date—

A visiting scientist called it

An unflushed toilet. Did you catch that?

See the stir? When we were young,

All the years we were away,

It was fouling—the moving water

We looked on, the depths beneath

Our boats, the shallows where we swam—

The whole allowed to fill with muck.

The river mouths are half-choked:

The black swans like it, and the ducks.

 

7

This is what we leave behind, this

Is where looking deeply leads:

A sink of waste, detritus,

Forms the past, the future too.

What’s ahead is what was dropped—

Bottle tops, can pull-tags, plastic scraps—

The trash I trod on to find a decent cast.

Perhaps I exaggerate. Resentment,

Anger, can be mere weariness, a stiffness

In the arm, a hint of incapability. At dawn

The surface of the lake still peels—

Silent, soft, its slow, gentle undulations

Almost level—away from darkness

And the thin, pale, lifting mist,

To spread its new, gleaming colors

Under the floating sun. Nothing else,

Thought or seen, interferes

With such a moment. It’s true,

I loved this place—the expanse

Of grass, the reserve, that runs

Between the houses and the water,

The willows in full leaf,

The boughs leaning over sand,

Shadowing the lapping shallows. Maybe you

Had some such memory flash in mind—

A momentary ripple—on the wide,

Deeply carpeted, directors’ floor.

Watching the water, I almost heard

The light pop and flutter, the rustle,

Of the minute waves tapping at the bow,

When I took my rod offshore

And, in the heat, gave up fishing—

A child’s always available choice—

To lie full length, rocking

In the sun, drying after swimming,

Too young for any retrieving thought:

Far out, drifting in my dinghy.

 

8

Who knows what your thoughts

Or memories were? What of your

Old attachments mattered? Perhaps

You fixed on other things. And you quit

Whatever purposes you had, all

You felt, thought, had lived—

Everyone you loved and knew—

In a startling leap. And, in truth,

The fact of it, that you jumped,

Means nothing to me beyond this:

That it’s a selfish sort of splash to make,

An act of sabotage, bursting

The accustomed hope, exertion,

Patience, of all alongside you,

All at every other stream:

A turmoil in the moving depths.

Who cares that you were among the kids

Like me? Mucking around on the sand—

Coarse, brownish, I remember it—

Digging down to make a pool,

Swinging on the willows, dropping

From a knotted rope into the water, grabbing

Minnows in the shallows—or trying to—

With your hands, diving under

The jetties into momentary shade,

Where the small, grey, scuttling

Crayfish could be seen, or drying

On a sandy towel, watching

The insects climb the glassy grains—

Even to repeat it matches their futility.

A fingertip sends them tumbling:

My words don’t put them back.

With a friend, I buried fish guts

On that beach—the wide,

Open one the visitors chose—

When we had cleaned

The trout we caught. Purple, red, cream,

Bulging, slippery ropes, impossible

To hold—filled with a mush

Of black and green—

We tipped our knivings into

Shallow graves, where we hoped

They’d spread their towels, lay

Their picnics out. It was an attempt

At ownership, at keeping our childish

World in some sense exact, immaculate.

 

9

What use in casting anything in words?

The appeal of description

Obscures what’s there, falsifies

What was. Words—mine, any—have no

Attachment to the real: they follow on

Each other, and reach to nothing else.

There is just a stream—a fact—

That begins in cold, dripping clay

Under wet, green lichen, moss,

Amid the tangled roots and the dead,

Fallen trunks and boughs of trees,

And fills through widening, eddying pools

To flow into a spreading lake. It’s where you

Catch them, though: big rainbows, strong

And bright, let to run, played, and—

With luck—hauled into sudden daylight,

Slippery in their sheen of color,

Their wet, iridescent brilliance,

Heavy in the hands, smooth-bellied, fat.

I caught these as a child, brown trout too,

With a child’s tackle. It’s not enough

To please me now, the little skill

Of then, so these few weeks

I’ve hired a guide who knows the lake,

The several streams, better than

I ever did. Everything once

Familiar, overlooked, is no longer

This, or what it was.

It is a demand on me to see.

Where we park for the bigger stream—

By the skeletal, graffitied railway bridge—

Was a dairy factory once. A child,

I saw the men, in their white hats and boots,

Packing butter into cardboard cartons:

I smelt the churns. But what was

Is not to purpose, it is not the ground

We tread. Our focus is on

The actual, and I know not

To bother present minutes,

With anything of this. We pack

And walk with a job to do.

It’s what he’s good at, has learned

And mastered: the setting aside

Of supposition, the dreamy in engagement,

The childish in inexperienced approach,

The impulse—that, one moment, was your own—

To give up. The difference is, I see,

In exposure to an ability that must be

Shown, some standard beyond

One’s own, that can be leant on, followed,

And this it is for me, in siting myself

Properly within the dark and flowing

Cold fresh water: no longer standing

To the side, on either bank, and looking,

But being at one with its shifting passages,

Becoming too at one with its living

Mysteries, accepting this mixed juncture

And estrangement—the part of certainty

And that which is ambiguous—so to

Impose myself and prevail within

The various holes and reaches

Of what are no longer childhood streams.

 

10

With this shift in place and myself,

I have come to see—at times to be—beneath

The reflecting surface, the gleam that attracts

And clouds—and tell significance

In the slightest bubbles in the rings of a rise,

The least bump of a nose on the tippet,

And know too to remain alert to chance:

As when I picked up the paper and

Saw it was a name I knew. And the story

Of your life and its end was there and

Was not there, was touched on

And flicked away: as it is here and

Not here in the circling, the trailing,

The light reeling in and playing out

Of lines placed now and then

On things existent and things gone,

As they are and they were,

In the streams of our childhoods.

These are the depths and shallows

Where you and I have travelled

And travel now together, weaving

Among others in their numbers

Flowing past, or stopping at, the appeal,

Blandishment, allure, the presented

Nourishment of things, their form

And color, the business of material

Enticement at all angles: individuals

Coming in and out of visibility,

At home in the current—

Full shade on one side, a glare

On the other—the sunlight

At moments catching accessories, flashing

From jewelry, gleaming on bags,

Sunglasses, shoes, as if this and these

Conferred and protected life,

Being itself, in bringing the whole out

From the common stream, the unthought

Certainty of natural existence,

And its deep, shared darkness, into

A brilliance momentarily in air

Or as briefly landed, and all made new.

 

Harold Jones is a New Zealander, educated at Cambridge University, where he was awarded an Exhibition to read English. For 20 years and, more recently, another ten, he sent no work for publication, preferring to work at its development. His work has appeared in major poetry journals in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and has won the attention of leading critics and poets, among them, Ted Hughes: “I hear a real voice, a real movement of mind cutting through resistances.” Recent work appears in Merion West and VoegelinView.

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