Grandpa drove me to Starvation
before dawn. I’d asked for help
to catch and keep one fish for a merit
badge. Back at Grandma’s, he had me kneel
in saltgrass on the ditch bank, cradle
my palms. I laid the trout in moss
feathers swimming in the current
like it had that morning, held it firm
and loose. My knees sank in mud.
I slit its throat with his pocket knife,
slid thumb up spine, pulled the guts
from mouth to tail, and rubbed the back
for stubborn parts. A fisherman cleans
his own fish, Grandpa said. He cleaned
his four. A grasshopper jumped
on my shoulder, and I blew it
with the side of my mouth. I was
not a monster to the grasshopper.
In the side garden, I picked a Better Boy—
warm and big as a softball, it yielded
its vine. I sliced and salted it, salted
and broiled the fish, poured lemon
from the bottle—Grandpa showed me how.
I didn’t mention the fish’s family
in the out loud part of my prayer.
I picked white meat from ribs, dipped it
in ketchup. He joked the fish was
going to pull me in. Grandma laughed.
He smiled. He’d never spoken this much.
I was learning to translate his silence
into something safe. When Grandpa died,
I asked for and got his pocket knife.
David Richards is a writer and software developer. He lives with his family in the deserts of Utah. You can find him online @drichards. His work is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, Nurture, and UCity Review.