More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.

Also by Rodney Jones:
Raccoon Time (1999)
Plea for Forgiveness (1999)

The Atlantic Monthly | December 2001

by Rodney Jones
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It had come up from the night depth of the lake to bend and chatter
       the rod as it lunged
under the boat, and now it flopped in the net until I had it in a slippery
       scrimmage on the aluminum floor:
suave as a satyr's haunch, but Appaloosaed with dots, treble-spined,
       and whiskered like Confucius.
And now, as I pliered open the jaws and took the hook it had taken,
        it made something like a bee-buzz.
From deep in its mouth that was white as a Ping-Pong ball, it made
       something like absolution;
and then it curled in the icebox, whacking the beers with its tail;
        and still, there it was.
I do not like to hurt a thing alive, even a catfish, so slow to perish
       not even Saint Thomas Aquinas
or W. C. Fields could raise the eloquence to free its killer of guilt.
       In Florida, catfish walk.
Nailed to an oak, skin peeled like wallpaper, catfish won't stop
       talking with twitches.
But what they say improves on guilt. You have to have waited many
       nights, with your face
blackening from the smoke of burning tires, and shined your light
        on a belled rod ringing
over stones and going fast into the river, to know that their lives
        mean as much as your life.
And what is your life? The bottom of a shallow place?
       Magnificences?You hold them carefully.
You listen, and they say your name in ancient Catfish.

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Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 2001; Channel; Volume 288, No. 5; 62.