Four days after the 9-11 attacks, my father hitched his bass boat to his Nissan SUV and made the four-hour drive from Barberton, Ohio to Athens for a weekend visit. We planned to fish Burr Oak and talk about life a little. I was well into my Ph.D. coursework at Ohio U. at the time, and would start preparing soon for my comprehensive exams, scheduled for the following April. There were things to talk about—terrorism, Ohio State football, the new Bob Dylan album, my stagnant love life, and his troubles at the bank—but the fishing would come first. My father was a fisherman; I tagged along, hoping for a largemouth to take my spinner, hoping for a little glory. That’s a big word, glory, one that seems to happen little between fathers and sons.
We fished Friday afternoon until early evening. He caught two nice ones because he was a persistent man. Not dogged, not obsessive, but he liked to catch fish, and performed the ceremonies well and with precision while I thought about Rebecca, the girl I loved or didn’t love. I wasn’t sure which. The fishing gods favor the certain. The fishing gods, my father used to say, are the only gods that matter. That evening, we had a nice dinner in Uptown Athens, steaks and baked potatoes, then good coffee at Perk’s on the corner. He wasn’t old then. The abdominal aortic aneurysm that would take his life years later was just a baby. It posed no threat.
He slept on my bed and I slept on the couch, and we planned to get on the lake early the next day. Cloud cover would help, he told me, even a little rain. The problem was, I didn’t want it to rain while he was alive. I didn’t want anything save the fact of him being there; driving, asking me questions about Hemingway’s prose, lauding the latest John Gierach book. I didn’t even know who John Gierach was. He said, “you should read The View from Rat Lake.” I did, but I did too late. He died before we had the chance to talk about it. We caught no fish that Saturday; the weather was hot and bright, but we talked. Or he talked and I listened, filling his coffee cup from the Thermos, watching the herons, not thinking about Rebecca too much. “The bass are down there,” he told me, “but the weather’s wrong.” Not even the fallen limbs on the edge of the lake would help, and he was looking older.
The following June would be his last trip West. He and his buddy Wes fished the Frying Pan and did pretty well, considering the heat and the depth of the river. I carry a picture of him Wes took that June: the gray man with a brown trout, looking satisfied, almost dignified. I look at that picture often. It comforts me, but it raises uncomfortable questions: Did I satisfy him as a son? Did I do the work he expected me to do? Did I care enough about fishing? I never accompanied him to Colorado, but we did catch bass in Ohio and surf-fished for many years on the Outer Banks. Was that enough? Was I enough?
After breakfast at a diner in Athens on Sunday, he left, and I felt almost relieved. Had we caught fish, maybe things would’ve been different. There would’ve been stories to tell that Thanksgiving, stories of persistence and cool weather, stories fathers and sons should share. Back in my apartment, I called Rebecca, but the voice on the answering machine told me she wouldn’t be there anymore, not like she’d been before. I called my father that Sunday evening. He sounded like another man’s father, but that was okay. The drive had been a long one, and the weather in northeastern Ohio had turned suddenly cold and damp.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.
Art: The Boat by by Paola Tavoletti who is an artist, illustrator and writer. Her works include: – Classical Lyceum – IED European Institute of Design: Diploma in Visual Communication (1978)- KLC Garden Design: Diploma, Honours- KLC Designing with Plants: Certificate, Honours (2015)- University of Hertfordshire, UK: Master Degree in Creative Arts (2019)- University of Lancaster, UK: currently enrolled in the 2nd year of the MA in Creative Writing / Poetry
Featured in international magazines: Russia Today (illustrations for literature)- Petite Hound Press (art) – Helen a Literary Magazine (art) – Poetry WTF?! (poetry/art)- Art United (art)- Women who draw (art) – Fiftiness (poetry/art) – Her Heart Poetry( poetry/art) – Adanna Literary Journal (cover art) – A5 magazine (art) – Flare Review (art) – Fiction International (cover art)- Michigan University Coloring Book (illustrations) – Juxtaprose literary magazine (illustrations) – Beyond Words (art)- the Poetry Kit Anthology’ Poetry in the Plague Year’ 2020( poetry)
– ‘Same Strange World: an Anthology of Contemporary Voices’ 2021 (Poetry)
– Collection of Poems longlisted in the ‘Premio Letterario Città di Castello’ 2021 (among the first 20 poets out of 256)