Sunday, April 16, 2023


 Au Sable

The summer before residency started in Chicago

I went north to Grayling, Michigan with a backpack

And the last of a dreamy eyed sociopathic certainty

To spend a weekend fly fishing on the edges

Of the swift black flat Au Sable river.

I thought I had it all won,

I’d played some cards well

Parlayed a little luck into a tidy stack 

That bought me access to higher stakes tables. 

I was ready to roll the dice and gamble.

But first, before sitting down with the high rollers

It was off to the swift black Au Sable river 

In the summer before the illusions fractured,

Before I realized everything I had

Barely covered the opening ante,

Before my cocky smirk got stuck

Under the tracks of the red line L,

Before getting swept away by big city currents,

Broken down by sleepless midnights

In the old Cook County Hospital 

Turkish prison call room,

Before the work of my life began

I sought one mystical experience in nature

So I bought a cheap fly rod and some tackle

With the last of the loan money

Practiced how to cast

In an old ballfield behind the rental in Toledo

Tossed a tent and a sleeping bag in the trunk

And drove straight north on route 23; 

A knock off 21st century version of Nick Adams,

The one who hadn’t been broken by war,

Who didn’t know the first thing about fly fishing—

Big two hearted phony

Up in Michigan I stopped at a tackle shop

Bought maps and a couple saran wrapped sandwiches

Took an hour to find the campground 

Close to the river and chanced it

By not paying for my campsite 

Exploiting the honor system rules 

Then I fished for a few hours

In the cold black river which surged 

Like an artery pulsing with alien blood

Tangled up my lines on fallen oaks 

And got some form of trench foot wading 

Through the black muck in old sneakers.

At night I slept in the car 

And listened to the Indians-Tigers game.

I never even put up the tent

I never caught a fish.

Drove home early the next day

Capping off an inauspicious outdoorsman debut.

It wouldn't be the first time I play-acted

Through a scene in my own life 

Months later the winter melt brought the rapids 

That grabbed a hold of my being

And rag-dolled me into the welter

Of hard earned wisdom and crushing mistake

After mistake after mistake with only

Brief expectorations to the surface 

Gasping for air that’s half water 

Before a swift narrowing in the channels,

Bank-shotting off granite walls,

Slashing in diagonal lightning bolt zags

Ever faster left, then right, then a series of swirls,

Maelstroms of disinterested malice,

Only the words remain inert

Even chaos falls short

Nature or time will have its violent way

They take turns 

Resistance is a Charybdis

While resignation only leads to Scylla

The river will carry you along

Its endlessness becomes a notion of time 

That will take you from point A to point B 

Alpha to omega no matter what 

You can act like you're swimming

Or navigating through narrow channels

Charting courses through treacherous waters 

But you’re just along for the ride 

In a roaring rapids that dies

In the churn and froth 

Of waterfall rock 

Where the river ceases to be river 

Without ever going away 

Where water falls without flowing in

Endless loops of incalculably variable patterns

That always look the same from a distance

Locked in place by implacable sheets of slate

But it never reverses, it never can go back

To where it came from.

No longer river

But also not anything else 

It’s easy to get cycled through

A series of  turbulent vortices

Over and over and over again

Until it spits you out one day

Twenty odd years down the road

Humbled, grayed, pale and trembling 

And you're drifting again 

Further downstream

In the calm that becomes the thing 

That a cataclysm created

Residue of whatever energy is left 

Bubbles to the surface

Like the last cries of the recently drowned.

Somehow you’re still alive, witness to it all

And, smooth as steel, the river 

Seethes forward through charred forests

Like stacks of mystical black eels

Like thieves fleeing crime scenes.

The roar becomes a dull far away murmur

And the heist a fading memory

That becomes a well told

Tale, embellished but water tight,

That always seems real

As long as you never look back 


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