On the way to fish one afternoon
the summer I turned fifteen,
my father stunned me by saying:
I hope you’re not fucking
that little girlfriend of yours, son,
because there’ll be plenty of time
for that in the years to come.
He stopped and I thought he was done,
but it was just a pause—and not long enough
of one—before he fired again:
Now your granddaddy, I don’t know
if you’re aware of this, but he traveled
a lot when I was about your age
and he was quite the ladies’ man.
Had pussy waiting for him
every stop from Memphis to New Orleans.
Your grandmother knew about it too,
and so did I, which is part of how come I never
been unfaithful to your mama.
I saw what it can do, and I am here
to tell you something, which is this:
you got to weigh the trouble of it, son.
You have got to weigh the trouble of it.
I of course had no response at all
to this and said a sincere prayer
asking that he not demand one,
futilely trying to distract myself
from the two words that stuck
in my mind like bad notes at a recital,
language I couldn’t believe
Daddy knew—had actually used.
My father was maybe forty at the time,
an impossible number it seemed to me then,
certainly not one I would ever reach
but did, and just as quickly as he had.
In the immediate meanwhile
he lit a cigarette and hit it a time or two
before turning on the radio
to somebody singing country
the way they did back then,
before all the calculation.
Half-listening, I decided I’d blame
my mother for the uneasy episode
I was in the midst of having to sort out.
Mama hated my girl and must have convinced
Daddy to have a word with me.
Now that it had come out so wrong,
so spectacularly wrong, I couldn’t tell
who was more embarrassed, him or me.
What saved the trip was the only thing
could have after that: the fish bit.
Ninety-seven of them came to our bait
that afternoon, bream mostly,
but a few cats and a couple of bass
also gave us something better to discuss
than the earlier subject,
which I am here to tell you
absolutely was not happening.
Later that summer, however, the girl
stunned me as thoroughly as Daddy had
when one night on her front porch
she took my hand and whispered
that she wanted to show me something.
My god, I thought, my god.
She was slick as a fish
in the Louisiana heat.
—from Rattle #34, Winter 2010