American Life in Poetry: Column 681


There's lots of fine writing about fly fishing, from A River Runs Through It on down, but good old pole-and-bobber fishing gets short shrift. Here's a bobber-fishing poem by P. Ivan Young, who lives in Nebraska. It's from his book Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain, from BrickHouse Books.

Fishing for Bream

We sit on the spillway,
the red and white bobbers
lilted by the wind, while
some force beneath the water
brings everything to attention,
the tight line, the echoed rings
conjuring tension inside us.
And when I touch the rod,
a living strangeness, a quivering
unseen tugs at my imagination,
not receiving but sending
some impulse down the line,
into the muddy water,
and when the sunfish erupts
I've made the spangles of water
the verdant scales, the shudder
of tail fin and light. We build fish
all afternoon, threading hooks,
looping line into a tight noose,
running gills down the stringer
into an opalescent chain
of glimmering emerald bodies.
Soon our mothers will call
with their icy vodka voices
and we will carry them home
like the weight of guilt,
but for now night closes around us.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by P. Ivan Young, “Fishing for Bream,” from Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain, (BrickHouse Books, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of P. Ivan Young and the publisher.
  Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.