Monthly Archives: January 2012


My home office has got some hellafied built-in bookshelves. As a matter of fact, those bookshelves and the barn were the two things that sold me on the house when we first looked at it. The reason for my bookshelf love is that I’ve got a hellafied collection of books and sundry life-artifacts that fill them like bookshelves should be filled. It’s a hand-in-glove thing. Feng shui meets the Delta Blues meets Fight Club. If this is your first time on fishingpoet, you have to fish.
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My bookshelves pretty much embody my life. They are a wildly eclectic timeline of decades spent running around the world–some with an actual purpose. Medals, photos and training manuals from my time in Service. A knot of black walnut from Island 69 in the Mississippi River, not far from Clarksdale. An ace of diamonds I found under a car tire in Ruleville, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson supposedly died after one of his riders (who was also another man’s wife) poisoned him. Hand scrawled roadtrip maps and AAA map-books on dozens of roadtrip states. So many journals. Fly boxes, reels, line and tying materials. Pictures of the kids, the arc of their full-speed childhood growing in stop-motion. Poetry broadsides. Fest mugs from my time stationed in Germany. Old collections of Field & Stream, Poets & Writers, Living Blues, Life, Lacrosse and Gray’s Sporting Journal. New collections of Gray’s, Fly Fishing Journal and The Drake. Every rejection letter I’ve ever received in response to writing I’ve submitted for publication. Advertising awards. A couple field-found fox and deer skulls. Virginia brook trout plates from my old truck…

Oh yea…then there’s the books.

The gamut runs from cheap, dog-eared paperbacks to signed hard-cover first editions with their dust-jackets. They’ve joined the fracas as Christmas, birthday and attaboy presents, from cramped one-room used book stores, garage and estate sales, the premium-priced shelves of college book stores in NY, VA and TX, trash-day boxes on the side of the road and from the interweb. Walt, Bukowski, Frost and Tupac. Lord of the Rings, Nick Adams, Clockwork Orange and A River Runs Through it. Calvin and Hobbes, Batman, Superman and Outland (*ack*cough*). Walden, A Sand County Almanac, Trout Bum and Stories of the Old Duck Hunters Club. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Contemporary American Poetry, The Magical Realist Fiction Anthology and Modern Genetics.

They were once in alphabetical order and organized by genre–poetry here, fiction here, non-fiction here, text-books here. But they have lived with each other in sin for long enough now that I fear even a weekend locked in my office with beer and my OCD would probably not cut it.

But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Life is blessedly messy. It’s a mashup of the valuable and the worthless, the gaudy and the precious, the good the bad and the ugly. It’s as much about frozen guides, blown out rivers, flies and fish gone, gone, gone in the thick brush on the other side of the pool, as it is the hook-up, god-I-promise-I’ll-be-a-better-man-if-you-let-me-land-this-toad prayer and glorious photo op.

There’s no straight line. No gimme’s. We’ve all got flaws and faults and make mistakes. At best, we gather it all into our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. At worst, we gather it all in our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. The fact is, we’re all learning as we go along. If somebody tells you they’ve got it figured out – they’re full of shit…and probably couldn’t find their ass with a GPS.

In the 9 months since I went out on my own as a freelance writer, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate my bookshelves – my life. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t read near enough–I don’t take near enough time to step back from my flaws and faults and mistakes, pick my head up and see the field. Life is busy – kids, committees, work, home projects. Excuses are easier and easier to come by. That said, the days are not getting any longer, it’s getting harder to keep my washboard abs, and my kids are not getting any smaller.

I made the jump because I realized that I needed to be more deliberate about life, and the past 9 months have been a pretty good start toward that wide-open horizon. The view from my bookshelves just keeps getting better. Even if they are a mess.




Filed under Making a living, On the water, Poetry, The road


The breeze lies on the water. There are two red canoes with four people in blue life-jackets paddling with silver & black paddles. Maples have pushed out their leaves to hang limp, yellow-green & newborn. The reflections of boats docked to the shore waver in the wake of one goose moving toward the island. At one time that goose had been in flight on a southern course. At one time it had been feeding in New York corn stubble.


A deer lowers its head to fallen acorns, walks into scented breezes proud & knowing. Empty mouths cry in the valley. Sun falls patched on leaf, moss & maple sprout alike, burning the frosted collar from our shoulders. Wind lies still in the valley. The sun goes cold over the hills, it will warm to greet us soon. Our young will grow with the seasons, nothing is lost. Buckskin blankets in the valley. Our mouths full of song.


From Indian Falls, Algonquin’s jagged head is framed by pine, rock, water & sky. Snow is alive on valley currents. Lifting my eyes from winking coals & hiss of unseasoned branches, through smoke I create the peak, frame its jagged head, hear the wind through pine boughs. Snowflakes land white & new on my jacket, pause, then glisten.


Lithe long fingers—her gray smolders burgundy, then faint green. Japanese Maple moving, then still—her graceful, tangled sweep of stars bows to the breeze & rippled water.


I am up early enough this morning to watch the carpenter bee that nests in the rafter above the doorway where I sit begin her day. Her buzz interrupted my train of thought about three deer I had seen in the field below our house drinking from the stream. Hovering above & behind me, I tip my head back to watch her hover just below the beam of the doorway. Her wings, dark auras that hold fast to her back & forth motion—I can feel their wash on my face. Her day of hunting for pollen grains, or soft wood to masticate, has begun. Legs folded dutifully to abdomen, she re-examines the territory around her nest, finds me incidental & moves on.


Canoe in dark water. Silent bow with no wake, no foam, no waves crashing. Turtles sun quietly on their flotilla of logs. Herons slow-step along green curves with careful eyes for minnows. Bushes full of white sound below yellow pine. Bass breathe thick shadows under lilies.


Before the fat pre-dawn (a quiet trumpet, a low moan in the pines), before sky becomes a reflection on the lake water bugs touch like tiny drops of rain, before bass are made lazy by water warming in the sun, before dogs stir & stretch their haunches, before gusts of mist rise like spirits with breath heading somewhere & nowhere, as thin light brightens…


I was smaller than my sister when my Dad told the story of the stones, Indian heads, hard heads, slick-smooth & half buried in shale, below the High Banks at the south end of the lake. Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, Keuka, Otisco. These waters are the print of the Great Spirit’s hand, the story goes. Hills grew from between the Spirit’s fingers & the valleys beyond them. My people were born of this place, of many places & in death their skulls would turn to stone. Smaller ones were those of children my size. I picked them out of ankle-deep water, asking—this one? & this? Deeper, the lake at my belly, I would find larger stones with bare feet & stand on their easy angles like pale green hill sides.


I stand on this hill, above other hills, above valleys. I stand before this land that shouldered the great herds. I stand before the nations I was told French soldiers attacked while the men were away hunting. I was told, if I remain after nightfall, spirits that still defend this place will turn the breath in my chest to ash. For now, while sundown rests on these hills, they whisper to me from the grass. I close my eyes, listen across the distance. It is enough, I hope, that I hear their voices, share their steps under this sky of fire.


Filed under Uncategorized