CATCH-AND-RELEASE RAT FISHING
You follow Earl’s pal with the blue-ribbon rat
tattooed across his chest to his choice hole
along the Jones Falls Basin’s concrete banks.
Dusk is thick and moist. Mr. Bill from the Domino
plant smells all brown and no sugar. When he says
Good fishing weather, the word fishing sticks
to his lips like the trill of a dead uncle’s dulcimer.
You think of your folks’ folks following streams
from places named Justice, Christian, and War
to the massive Chesapeake, strung along by the promise
of skilled-labor jobs. But the silver water was only
silver water, and the jobs lasted exactly three babies.
Beneath the JFX overpass, creeks and toilet-dribble
blur into a muck the consistency of milk. You slip
bread factory seconds onto the hook’s sharp barb,
load the line with six or seven split-shot sinkers,
cast past the knocked-about baby stroller blocking
the sewer pipe’s murky mouth. Rats stutter in and out.
You catch lots of those little snub-nosed buggers,
the ones coughed from flooded Pigtown gutters
in spring rain. They bite even after they’re hooked.
Earl and his pal wishbone one, walk opposite ways
along the bank, yank hard. Earl wins. You land a long-bellied
Norwegian that’s wandered up-stream from the harbor.
Real lunkers, those Norwegians. Set the hook
deep enough and they’ll tug their own guts
clean inside out. The rod jiggles voodoo-like
and you loosen the drag, let this one jerk the nest
of slack gathered in your hand, then reel it in real
slow and deliberate, so its little friggen’ claws
can’t hold onto anything for long. Someone’s transistor
flickers on and off about West Virginia, its mighty sea
of anthracite. When it’s close enough to count whiskers,
you holler up to Gary, who bites the line in half just like he
always does. You watch the rat drag a few trophy yards
of 20 lb. test back into the black belly of Baltimore.
—from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
Joseph Capista: “My spouse and I live in a 1950s kit house on the cusp of this swanky Baltimore neighborhood designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead. Our house looks like an ice-cream truck on cinder blocks. Neighbors think it’s an eyesore. They threaten to purchase it from our landlord and tear it down. We think it’s perfect.”