Natasha Trethewey


             for my father

I think by now the river must be thick
           with salmon. Late August, I imagine it

as it was that morning: drizzle needling
           the surface, mist at the banks like a net

settling around us—everything damp
           and shining. That morning, awkward

and heavy in our hip waders, we stalked
           into the current and found our places—

you upstream a few yards, and out
           far deeper. You must remember how

the river seeped in over your boots,
           and you grew heavy with that defeat.

All day I kept turning to watch you, how
           first you mimed our guide’s casting,

then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
           between us; and later, rod in hand, how

you tried—again and again—to find
           that perfect arc, flight of an insect

skimming the river’s surface. Perhaps
           you recall I cast my line and reeled in

two small trout we could not keep.
           Because I had to release them, I confess,

I thought about the past—working
           the hooks loose, the fish writhing

in my hands, each one slipping away
           before I could let go. I can tell you now

that I tried to take it all in, record it
           for an elegy I’d write—one day—

when the time came. Your daughter,
           I was that ruthless. What does it matter

if I tell you I learned to be? You kept casting
           your line, and when it did not come back

empty, it was tangled with mine. Some nights,
           dreaming, I step again into the small boat

that carried us out and watch the bank receding—
           my back to where I know we are headed.