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Old 01-29-2003, 09:20 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
Lariat Emeritus
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,807

Wild Immanuel

The pool is basalt black; a charcoal stump
hunkers where I’ll fish at morning’s glow.
I wait till scouting hints of sunrise jump
the trees, till dawn unblankets dozing snow,
then cast beside the root; lead pocks the gloom
and bellies peeling line around the flanks
of brawling whorls that bound the pewter flume.
I wade around the trees on flooded banks.

The pencil-weight strikes bottom, starts to trip:
tic tic. I visualize a contour map:
the riverbed – retrieve, recast, whirr, splip –
in line-tap Braille, and soon I find the lap
in which he’ll lie. Below the stump a hollow,
then a rock. Yes, he’ll be holding there
balanced on the thalweg, which I follow -
chute, compression wave, and stone-split flare.

Adjust the length of lead. Weight bounce, a knock,
then, scraping down the stone, tic, stop, and strike;
a sense of colossal weight, a moving rock,
followed by slackness. Loss. A thornlike spike
of dorsal fin above a coursing hump -
deep, almost invisible, its arc
sweeps the tailout, slaloms to the stump,
and lets the dawning swallow it like dark.

I watch the patch of water where it sank
then let it float away, with wistfulness;
next day I tramp the meadows to that bank,
where January mist and darkness coalesce.
Today I will be ready when he takes,
alert, prepared to strike him trigger-fast.
Crevasses yawn above the trees – dawn breaks;
this time I know precisely where to cast.

Tic tic, tic tic, tic stop – I’ve struck already
and now we’re locked together; slow pulsations
presage his charge but still he’s holding steady;
my instincts wait on his deliberations…
This fish is evolution’s masterpiece;
his caudal wrist is thick, his tail is large
to match the Little Qualicum’s caprice –
its great, precipitate, flash-flood discharge.

Two hundred times its summer volume - he
can navigate the rapids in that flood,
evading trundling boulders and debris
of trees that spear down through the murk. His blood
begins to surge and urges him to mate,
to pass on traits distinguishable from other
rivers’ tribes’, to run the winter spate,
he and the torrent steeling one another.

And now he runs, leaves me like Hemingway’s
Old Man of the Sea, a throwback Ahab, lost
in crazed resolve. He leaps there in the haze,
spectral, as though flash-frozen by the frost,
then splashes down and disappears inside
his territory of rushing, ice-black water;
he’s primed to seek asylum, bolt and hide;
in his world, losing struggles end in slaughter.

He’s lost if line guides ice or if he shoots
the glide – a certainty if he otterboards
downstream; the stump’s a labyrinth of roots;
upstream the banks are flooded like the fords –
the odds are on his side. I do not dare
to let him choose the dueling ground. I pull
the line; he pulls the strings, goes everywhere -
the windings on my reel reveal the spool.

I let him beat upriver then exert
pressure against him, sideways and downstream
and feel him give; he turns, tries to assert
his course. I have his measure now; abeam,
I let the river sap him, clamber out
beside a grassy cleft lapped by the spate
and, leveraging each thrash, I haul his snout
towards it, slacken off; he lies in state.

I grasp his tail - he offers no resistance -
then kick-pile alder leaves and lay him there,
an altar to our transient coexistence;
red crescents flicker - urgent gill plates flare.
A steelhead buck, raw speed and adrenalin,
quicksilver curves awash over ochre and cream,
eye wilder than his unclipped adipose fin,
at twenty pounds, he’s a trophy hunter’s dream.

But not for me. In truth I am relieved;
such saviors of the wild gene pool are blessed
with mandatory release. He is reprieved.
I float him, breathing, till he kicks to wrest
himself from my supporting sling of hands
through icy water. His back is long and green
as he propels himself to hinterlands
of winter-runs in the river’s cold ravine.

And in some cloud of flittering gravel he
released the milt of millennial design
alongside hatchery does; then recently
the run did not return – a broken line.
But still I walk the meadowland and see
his first and second comings in the mist -
his sacred fin, his leap, him swimming free,
that final wave of tail and caudal wrist.

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Old 03-04-2003, 02:55 PM
Richard Wilbur Richard Wilbur is offline
Mr. Parnassus
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Key West, FL
Posts: 52

The title of this poem is intially cryptic, but one soon comes to see that the steelhead, fighting upstream from the sea to spawn, is a preserver of life, a sort of Messiah. And one sees from the start that Mr. Beaton is the kind of poet, like Seamus Heaney or Father Hopkins, who fishes for the words which will convey the reality and whatness of things. This starts for cetain in line 3, with "I wait till scouting hints of sunrise jump/ the trees," words which on brief reflection evoke very well the dispersed and sudden first touches of dawn light in the treetops. It may be that these capturings of the concrete are at times too busy, so that the flow of the whole is obstructed, but mostly I relish them. This poem shows a fine natural ability to rhyme in the course of argument.
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Old 03-04-2003, 03:33 PM
Carl Carl is offline
New Member
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 28

John, It's not that I want to put you on the spot but why is the clock set two and a half hours eastern, and not two or three? Are you guys hiding an Atlantis somewhere in Salt Lake City or something? Just curious.

C. F.
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Old 03-04-2003, 03:36 PM
Carl Carl is offline
New Member
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 28

Sorry, John, I meant to ask Tim Murphy, the Poet Lariat.

[This message has been edited by Carl (edited March 04, 2003).]
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Old 03-06-2003, 12:46 AM
John Beaton's Avatar
John Beaton John Beaton is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada
Posts: 7,515

Thanks very much, Richard. Your work is an inspiration by example to many of us here at Eratosphere, and it's indeed an honour to have you review this poem.

Your comment on perhaps including too many concrete details is not a surprise - Alan and Tim (from whom I've learned much of what I know of writing poetry) have pointed this out on many occasions. But for their work in the past, it would have been busier. Your comment will reinforce my efforts to be selective.

I'm glad that you approve of most of the detail, the rhyme, and the emergence of the theme. Such endorsement makes me feel like the "inchling trout of spotted near-transparency, trawling a shadow solider than he".

Also, my sincere thanks to Tim and Alan for their near-mythic sea voyage to "Mr. Parnassus" bearing offerings of poetry.

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Old 06-13-2007, 07:21 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
Lariat Emeritus
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,807

We are going to be too cumbrous if we try to conduct this entire discussion on one thread. So I am bumping John's Wild Immanuel to the top of the board. I have finally learned how to use SEARCH. John has a voice deeper and larger than any living poet I know. The initial draft of this poem was a politically correct disaster, and under enfilading fire from Alan and me, John retreated to the pursuit of the great trout. It was one of the greatest pieces of revision we ever saw at the deep end. I have brought this to the top so that people can read Dick Wilbur's comments, and my recollections of its composition.
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