Human Involvement in Non-Saline Aquatic Environments

In Cedar Lake conservationists have planted
fish attractors along the gravel bottom, in the hopes
of building a sustainable underwater environment.

We are not thinking about science, Jonny and I.
Instead, we troll the shallows of Shellcracker
cove. Beyond stoned. Aiming for anything
clueless enough to snag onto our clumsy hooks.

While I bait my line with sawdusted wax worms,
Jonny tells me the short history of the lake,
how the city blasted the dam to flood the valley,
that beneath the water rests the ruins of old homes.

He is always full of this kind of information.
He can move from history to existentialism.
From cosmology to politics to mathematics.
From the hydrogen bomb to craft beer.

I am imagining schools of squatting fish.
Striped bass occupying an empty chimney.
A cluster of catfish nestled in a wood stove.
Bluegill residing in a waterlogged toy box.

We are both drawn to the lake, we decide.
I tell Jonny of the two girls drowned here
last winter, how the car sped off the boat launch,
how the icy water made the sedan an aquarium.

We both conclude that there is an irony to this—
although we cannot agree on what exactly it is.

When I finally catch a sunfish, we marvel at its flesh.
The skinny red stripes extending across its fins.
Its small body. The fight it gave to stay submerged.
We are curious. I am sincere with guilt—

the hook having torn though its mouth.
How we have marked this creature indefinitely.
That when we give the fish back to the lake,
it swims sideways, it flounders, it floats belly up.

Jeff Haynes is an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech, where he also serves as Poetry Editor of The Minnesota Review. His work has previously been seen or is forthcoming in Grassroots, Glassworks, Jenny, and Midwest Literary Magazine.