A fisher-boy's life: part one

My father fishing

The other week, fast-driven north
of London, just south of Epping Forest
old trees flying by, new-green-gowned,
I remembered that boy-enchanted day
as sharp and good and clean and clear
as that pebble bottomed river-stream
that must still be in there, somewhere,
just as it was in nineteen thirty nine
for those two fishers, father and I -
a five years old and so excited self.
(Mother and sisters might have been there
too, certainly, although them,
as hard as I have tried and still do try
I can’t recall on that remembered day.)

But I remembered the live finger-feel
of warm, hot earth, uprooted turf
that we hand-dug out in search of bait
from the soft bank, the wriggly worms,
excited, I, and yet for them so sad I felt
and still can feel the sleepy weight
of summer’s heat through sun-shaft foliage
overhead; green, golden, shifting,
and still I see the moving water glisten,
hear the quiet ruckle of it, slow running,
shallow swirling, cold to my bare feet,
and the insect drone of many tiny wings
amidst the waxy drowse of that forest.

Most of all I remember my father
and the dry-mouthed thrill of watching
my father setting up to try to catch a fish,
to cast a line and hook and catch a fish!
with tackle from his canvas bag -
ah, the smell: the warm, sweet, rotten,
rusty, cat gut, dead fish smell of that bag.
I remembered it all as I was driven by
Epping Forest, though now I’m old:
And there! I see the red and yellow quill
trip-dancing down the current, me
waiting, waiting, for the sudden tip and dip
that never came on that enchanted day,
catching nothing but having so much,
my father and I, (I not me, he’d say),
of embrionic fishing love, and such.

Bryan Islip
Part one of  ‘A fishing life’ : May 2014

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