The slack line went taut, the river lapped against
the bluff, and I reeled to bring the fish in.
I’d swum across the river with floats
and fishing pole to take up my position
on a ledge of stones, some as large as rooms.
All that year I worried the ache in my legs
was the arthritis that crippled my grandmother,
left her in a back room, calling out
for someone to come and hear a rhyme
she’d just composed. I lay in bed at night
crafting the same prayer again and again,
thinking that if the tone were right,
the words more humble, seeming not to ask
for anything, then maybe my own life
would be spared the same pain, ointments
and creams rubbed against knees,
worked between the gnarled shapes of fingers.
After I got the small-mouth onto the ledge,
it jerked and flopped and almost slipped
back into the river, and sometimes now
when I think on that day, I see its presence
fin deeper into depths, and I let it go, I don’t even
reach for it, I and everyone I love already
soaring the afterlife, flashing through an immense
silence, and I move to lay my burdened body down,
down among stones, but find that it is nowhere,
it is already no longer a weight I can feel.
Jeff Hardin is the author of five collections of poetry: Fall Sanctuary (Nicholas Roerich Prize); Notes for a Praise Book (Jacar Press Book Award); Restoring the Narrative (Donald Justice Prize); Small Revolution; and No Other Kind of World (X. J. Kennedy Prize). His sixth collection, A Clearing Space in the Middle of Being, is forthcoming in 2019. The New Republic, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry Northwest, Hotel Amerika, and Southern Poetry Review have published his poems. He teaches at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, TN.