Derek N. Otsuji

Bass Fishing

Back from chemo, you were having a “good” day
          so we dug in the yard for nightcrawlers
                    and loaded the Datsun pickup with gear.
                              No fancy rods, but simple bamboo poles,

each with a hook, a lead sinker and float.
          We drove through the long tree tunnel, 
                    were bathed in its freckled shade, then arrived
                              at the hidden reservoir, where we had

the lake to ourselves. Black tadpoles lolled 
          in the shallows, a damsel fly, like a stick pin, 
                    glittered on a reed, and the fish, as if obliged 
                              with the duty to praise freshness of live bait, 

filled our bucket, their gold-ringed eyes, sky-blank, 
          unblinking, like a Greek hero fading into song, 
                    even as silent crying mouths gulped air. 
                              Grandma insisted we clean our own catch, 

brought a cutting board out onto the lawn,
          scaled, gutted that first bass with a blade’s clean 
                    swipe, and motioned for us to do the same.
                              The catch dispatched and prepped, the fish

were seasoned and floured, deep fried to a crisp.
          You ate skin, fins, flesh, down to the bare plate, 
                    and between eager teeth took the sweet meat, 
                              packed it onto your bones, and cured the hunger.

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Born on Oahu, Derek N. Otsuji is the author of The Kitchen of Small Hours (SIU Press, 2021), selected by Brain Turner for the Crab Orchard Poetry Series Open Competition. Recent work has appeared in 32 Poems, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Bennington Review, Crazyhorse, Cincinnati Review, Southern Review, and The Threepenny Review.