On the Pier

Mary Nork

Me, thirteen, my brother seven,

dangle legs over the splintered pier,

our lines taut, our silver bait in reach,

the fishy smell of lake hovers as thick as sound

in our breath, our sweat,

our rationed words.


By turns we stab each wisp of spine,

hook the minnow bellies.

No thought of life

or hurt or chain of food.

No thought


of anything but a hunger strike,

or the man nearby who’s caught his lot,

morning still and we with none.

Younger than my father,



younger than my teacher,

a boy-man,

he winds the reel

until a yellow perch writhes and flaps,

sprays water like green grape seeds

into the froth below.


Hand me your string, he says.

Of course I do and watch

him thread it through the gaping mouth,

and out the gill still fighting August air.


Closer now, he leans across me, smiles to my brother.

What I see is his arm, his shoulder,

his sun-streaked hair,

the fish

fluttering fins

glinting scales

eyes clear,