~This poem previously appeared in Turnstile (1991).
—and Roy came up from his deck chair shouting "God-
dam, boy! This is really living!" and reeling back
hard, the cold bottle of Heineken between his legs
splashing his plaid shorts and falling to the deck
of his immaculate Ramblin', just as the fish,
curving into bright hooks, the stripes on its sides
fracturing gray into light, liquid as anything living
underwater could be, and free on twenty feet
of fifteen-pound test taut from a struck rod,
came aboard, vertical, flashing, twisting, writing its name,
mackerel, and landing so hard it spattered
blood over the ice chest which was half full of ice
but roomy enough for the fish to slap itself cold.
Roy was out of breath, but "Goddam!"—another fish,
on the other line, the glas whipped to the gunwale
and the spool giving with a whine—"You take her, boy,"
Roy said, pointing, and I knew he meant the pole,
the fish, not the wheel already in my hands.
So I let her go and picked her up, and Roy
fell across the deck chair he'd forgotten
he'd been sitting in trying to take over the helm,
and she, Ramblin', bucked into a swell
rolling under us, and past us, toward the coast,
the color of wet sand. There we were,
right where everything changes: old man, fish,
and beer bottle in a reckless dance, twin Merc's
stuttering on troll, and me, for the first time,
at fifteen, with a her in my hands not wanting
to be steered or shifted; for whom, once hooked,
there was no reverse, no leaving the dance floor
terrified and ashamed because I'd pressed
my awkward, unmediated body against hers.
"Goddam," I'd said, walking home. Too soon?
Too hard? What did you have to do or be?
Cool? I had friends said they merely jerked
them in—"Tip up, boy!" Roy was screaming, "Tip up!"
hardly in control. I planted my feet on the deck,
foamy in an inch of Gulf and beer. "She's yours,
boy, don't let her get away!"—but she pulled
much harder than I ever wanted to believe
she would, and then she broke the water, spectral,
duplicating Roy's fish but further out and further off
Ramblin's starboard, as if the time between
his fish and mine were a mirror angled up and away,
and the mackerel danced there, three-quarters of an inch
of metal threading its mouth, seeming a part,
somehow, of the pole straight up in my hands, and suddenly
the gulls above it scried, and it was if they spoke
for the whole goddam run of mackerel, hundreds of them,
blue and yellow, we were running across. I wanted
to see her snap, to twist, to flash, and so I jerked back
hard and she came flying in at me, hard and wet
and shivering water from her body, and the blood—
~This poem previously appeared in Apalachee Quarterly (1985).
Salads Are Like Children, Or Cars
Mother grits her teeth cutting lettuce
Like father does when he comes
Out of the bathroom, fumbling with damp pants.
Carrots, too, receive her undivided.
“Salads are like children, or cars,” she says,
“They always look better with a generous use of color.
Why, I remember summers full of picnics and salads
And dancing under painted moons from Japan.”
I had an aunt that winced
When mother raised her bowl to the window.
She had made the same salad. “You shouldn’t have
gone to the trouble” she said, as we pulled up next to them.
Her husband was rapping his knuckles on the wheel
and watching his shirt untuck when she added,
“You know, sometimes I crimp my radishes.”
My brother covered his ears and howled.
Hungry, father parked next to a convertible.
My brother tumbled over the front seat, and ran.
I followed, but the car door was serious
About making salad. It needed the color red from my hand.
My brother tried twice, but the door would not close.
The car grit its grill and choked on my bones.
“Quit fucking with the car,” said my father, his mouth full.
“Boys will be boys,” said my aunt. “And wives wives,” said mother.
The rest of the picnic was just like ice at night.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
“Salads Are Like Children, Or Cars” was composed in1984 as a gift for my parents, who were coming to visit me and my best friend where we house-sat for a much-admired professor. It is one of those rare poems that came to me quite quickly. I read the poem aloud to my parents as we drank some wine before dinner. They were well aware that my own hand had been slammed in a car door by my older brother when he was five or six years old. The poem is cinematic in an elliptical way, something like a music video; just enough narrative is provided so that the reader is partially satisfied. The irregularity of the lines and the exceedingly deliberate punning at the ends of lines attests to a particular moment in my long apprenticeship to the line of verse—a moment that hasn’t ended.
Most of “Mackerel” is more or less a versified transcript of an early morning fishing expedition, probably also in 1984. The memories of tensions about high school dances that occur to the speaker of the poem about halfway through that transcript is something like a xenolithic inclusion such as might be found in a rock that was sought for some other quality. The inclusion seems to me to be the weakest aspect of the poem, perhaps not for any inherent reason, but because of the heavy overuse of such remembered narratives as the basis for reader emotion in American poetry from the 1970s forward.
ABOUT DANIEL BOSCH
Daniel Bosch’s collection Crucible was published by Other Press in 2002. His poems, translations, and reviews have appeared in journals such as Poetry, Slate, Agni, The Paris Review, The TLS, The New Republic, Plume, and The Istanbul Review, and his poems riffing on movies “starring Tom Hanks” were awarded the first Boston Review Poetry Prize in 1998.