American Life in Poetry: Column 028BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Although this poem by North Carolina native Ron Rash may seem to be just about trout fishing, it is the first of several poems Rash has written about his cousin who died years ago. Indirectly, the poet gives us clues about this loss. By the end, we see that in passing from life to death, the fish's colors dull; so, too, may fade the memories of a cherished life long lost.
Water-flesh gleamed like mica:
orange fins, red flankspots, a char
shy as ginseng, found only
in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear
of faraway creeks no map
could name. My cousin showed me
those hidden places. I loved
how we found them, the way we
followed no trail, just stream-sound
tangled in rhododendron,
to where slow water opened
a hole to slip a line in
and lift as from a well bright
shadows of another world,
held in my hand, their color
already starting to fade.
First published in “Weber Studies,” 1996, and reprinted from “Raising the Dead,” Iris Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Copyright © 1996 by Ron Rash, a writer and professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, whose newest novel is “Saints at the River,” Picador Press, 2005. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.