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What Is This Thing Called Death?

When I was five, the old man my father called
Uncle Lee, who had long since converted
his farm to flower gardens, took sick
and stopped coming downstairs
in the house we shared each summer.

One day I saw him lying very still
in his white nightshirt among white sheets,
and after breakfast I was whisked away
by someone called cousin Elise and her son
for my first fishing trip. I can recall

a metal boat, the can of worms, shiny black
bullheads with ugly barbs and flattened heads.
The death I remember from that day was theirs,
the cuts through their flesh with a sharp knife.
When I returned, Uncle Lee was gone.

There must have been a funeral with mourners
but I was not there. My father might have said,
had I asked why, that he had seen too much death,
his mother, step-mother, favorite brother,
and wanted to spare me the pain that never heals.

But I wonder. Had he ever been fishing?