FISHING

Perched on the frost hardened bank
of the wide, cold river,
eyes intent on the rushing water,
dark and high,

I notice the greenish
brown river grasses,
rooted hopefully in their muddy beds,
in a permanent lean
as the current pulls them forward,

and my eyes train between the reeds,
strain towards that bottom
where I might glimpse gray,
or mottled brown,
perhaps a shape
unlike rock or branch,
something undeniably fish.

It’s late,
and wearily, determined,
I step into the freshet,
tossing pail and net aside,
boots sinking into the thick
organic carpet
lining the raging stream.

Now bent-kneed, hunched,
all my senses joining
with the forceful rush of water,
I feel things pressing, jostling,
knocking on my rubber clad calves,

and I’m shivering, such a
cold day for fall, wondering
if I’m delirious or
if perhaps the catfish,
the crappies,
the brown river trout
have finally
come to call,
and

are they taunting,
or urging me to name them,
call them forth,
lift them from the frenetic fray
into the bright relief
of their afterlife?

I plunge my hands
into the frigid waters,
grabbing at any shape
I think I see,
pulling out stones loosened
by the swollen rush,
and hunks of half-composed leaves
still attached to their rotting branch,
and,

gloves now soaked,
I am tossing handfuls
of dubious treasure
up onto the hard earth

when,
hands numbing
from the icy wet,
my eyes go to an odd form
amid the shiny tangle
of cast off debris
trembling on the bank.

It’s a little crayfish
on his back, caught in the clog
of dirt and stone,
tail flipping uselessly
towards the white underbelly,
claws open,
the bright sun
turning tiny, stunned eyes
to shiny marbles
and

my purpose becomes tenderness,
compassionate curiosity
as I reach my wet gloved hands
under his small dark back,
scoop him from the tangle,
and right him
to meet the earth.

He pauses, stance wide,
lifts his impressive little claws
up and out
as if to say
come no closer,

and then he’s off, eyes
still fast on my foreign face,
tail flipping to scoot him
backwards into the river.

Peeling off those soggy gloves,
warming my freed and icy hands
with steamy exhalations,
I sense the little crustacean
returned to his wild waters,
watching from the depths,

and I want to
imagine him grateful
for the wake up call,
full of new appreciation
for his river, his claws,
his small, powerful tail.

I suppose I’m projecting,
because that’s what we
humans do,
dripping our fears and
hypotheses all over
the plants and animals
around us,

pulling poems from their hunt,
their flower,
stories from their mating rituals,
always seeking ourselves
in their purposeful, focused lives.

I am sated, spent, complete,
gathering my empty pail,
my soaking gloves,
heading for home.

–Melinda Coppola

Imagine the Harvest

Mercy

What if we had drills,
not just for disasters, fires
and hurricanes, not just
for active school shooters
and any possible terrorisms
both foreign and domestic,

what if we had rigorous
training in kindnesses:
how to recognize them incoming,
start a volley with the perpetrators.

Imagine preparations
for frequent barrages
of mutual respect,
muscle building
and visual exercises
to increase aim with
arrows of understanding,
rehearsals in how to see
oneself
in another,

and, at last,
commonwealths of decency
brigades of beneficence,
great infantries of amity,

drilling to hone skills
of making, and giving,
and keeping,
peace?

–Melinda Coppola

Perhaps his name is Three Dollar Bill

The Emissary
To the man on Pleasant Street

You pace
the same stretch
of sidewalk
every morning,

purposefully, in one direction,
then turning abruptly
to traverse the same piece
of asphalt

back to an invisible starting point,
ovalling this way
over and over,
rain or shine,
in every season.

Your arms flail
as if conducting some
mysterious orchestra,

both hands
occasionally popping
peace symbols.

How can any mere human
maintain such a pace?

Is there a secret wellspring
of energy bubbling up
from some crack
in the hard ground
you’ve claimed as your own?

Your eyes hide
behind sunglasses,
with no regard to weather,

as if you can perceive
sun where there is
none.

An unkempt jungle
of beard and mustache
obscures more of your face,

with just a long
sunburned nose
and two crescents
of tanned upper cheek
to show a weathered countenance
to an indifferent world.

And then
there are the too-long pants,
always bell bottoms,
perhaps the same pair
day after month
after year.

You seem a refugee
from Woodstock,
and I wonder
what called you
to this life
of endless pace.

Is it drugs,
or mental illness,
or the too-common
marriage of the two?

Do you know any refuge,
where and when
do you sleep,
and who once called you son?

There are days, man,
when I see those
peace symbols popping
from your expressive hands,

and I think
you could be a messenger
come to remind us—
the busy ones,
the ones who hide our crazy
behind full schedules
and rapt consumerism—

that we’re born for more,
that walk-dancing on a sidewalk
can’t mean less

than strapping ourselves into cars
to rush to sit
behind screens
so we can buy
more than we’ll ever need.

Perhaps it could
very well
mean more.

–Melinda Coppola