Monday, August 31, 2015

Picture of the Author with Vice President by William Wenthe


Picture of the Author with Vice President

That’s me on his left. If neither one of us 
looks comfortable, it’s because I said 
I’m sorry to hear about his heart. 
A small machine, he says, sends tiny sparks 
in there, to pace the flow of blood. 
Some people will dispute this photo; his office 
has denied it’s me; but I have to believe 
I am in the picture. It’s awkward, yes, 
for we don’t know each other; 
and if he’s known as a man who keeps 
public secrets, I’m not known at all. 
Even so, he and I share something 
that we cherish, deeply, which is our love

of trout. On his Wyoming ranch, he owns 
a trout stream for himself. When I raise 
the question—How’s the fishing?—he will rise 
to the subject, and we will have grown 
a little closer, having now disclosed 
a passion no one, having known, lets go. 
And he, too, is a man who knows cold blood 
of trout cares nothing for who you are. 
Nor do they care who owns the land 
their water flows within: So long 
as land and stream stay clean, they live. 
Because I must rely on public lands 
to find—weighed out in the flash 
of a trout’s brilliant scales—that cleanly order, 
I’m concerned about his sympathy 
with those who call such places “undeveloped.”

But I know better than to say as much 
to a man who’s so well versed 
in the rhyming of ecology with economy— 
abstract nets that hold so many tangibles, 
such as meadow grass that filters silt 
so cutthroat trout may have clean beds 
of gravel for their spawning redds; 
or the English teacher whose hopes 
for a pay raise float on the promise 
of a growing tax base—in other words, 
the new sport coat I’m wearing 
in the photo, bought for this occasion. 
Still, I want to believe in the heart 
of a man who would fish a barbless fly 
for a trout, and let it go; who would spend 
that much time to be where trout live, to step 
so softly in their stream, they do not frighten.

So I am going to tell him a story 
about the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico, 
and a man who lived there. By all accounts, 
William Myers knew the land, but owned 
none of it. Had no money, so in order to live 
in the mountains, he bartered work 
for the privilege of staying in 
other people’s second homes. 
One day, he drove his ATV up a ridge 
to scout the most likely route to run a pipe 
to his friend’s house. He lit a cigarette, 
studied the forest floor, as he’d often done 
for fresh deer lies, bear scat, a crop of mast 
that might draw wild turkeys in. 
Whether it was a spark from the ATV 
or the cigarette, he didn’t know; but he was sure, 
he told police, that it was he who caused the fire. 
That night, a glowing orange blemish on the sky; 
by next day, a dry mist with a taste 
of wet paper. Nine thousand acres 
of forest he had hunted, ponds and creeks 
he’d fished—the bell-note of hummingbird wings, 
the raccoon crooning to her pups—gone up 
in a surf of flame; sap-laden pines burst 
like the improvised gas-and-bottle bombs 
he’d learned to make in the army. Helicopters 
dropped fire-retardant chemicals on a woods 
he’d loved but never owned, and never meant

to burn. They fell in scarlet plumes, like blood 
that must have sprayed from his skull 
when he stood in front of the gun 
he held in his own hand, and fired. 
—Well, it may have been the words 
like blood, and skull, and gun
that made the men in sunglasses bring 
our conversation to a polite, efficient end. 
Or it could have been my agitation 
over a man who took responsibility— 
who, as his scribbled farewell letter read, 
could never live with what he had destroyed.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rabih. Wenthe's words place me indelibly in the awe and sadness. Do you post stuff by Billy Collins?

    ReplyDelete