They wait for winter,
wait until the very top of the river stills,
frozen white, until it reflects the leafless
trunks of shoreline birches,
wait for bitter cold
to scrub the landscape clean,
sterile, so they can cut holes,
scoop out the ice,
drop lines in the fluid undercurrent
and drag life into the chilled air.
They sit in the open
on overturned plastic buckets
or in artlessly painted wooden shacks,
gazing into ice water or eyeing
a series of tip-ups, while drinking cans
of cheap beer, whiskey from flasks.
After they hook the limit, they
come back home and sit in basements
or at kitchen tables covered
with yesterday’s newspaper, sever
heads at the gills, finally ridding themselves
of that unclosing eye, slit
the bellies and scrape out guts and eggs,
store the corpses in freezers.
They return again,
even as the cold fails them,
even after clear water appears
at the shore. They return
until the creak of the ice
gives its final threat.
Then they wait, until Friday,
the catch thawed and fried,
served with Old Milwaukee
and potato salad. They eat it –
leaving plates empty
except for white piles
of spit out bones.