TWO POEMS by Jim Whiteside

/ / Issue 16, Poetry, Uncategorized

 Stocking the Pond

             500 bluegill in a tank 
on the back of a truck, 
parked on the bank, 

pouring them out. Fifth grade, 
early spring. The year 
I was taught there were right 

             and wrong ways to be 
a man. I watched 
the waterfalling bodies 

of the fish, our pond 
like a holding cell.
When the valve closed, 

             one got caught and cut 
in half, the top fin and tail 
just sat there in the grass, 

separated from the head 
still floating in the tank. 
We caught them 

             all summer, kept them
on a line strung through 
the gills. I hooked one 

through the eye, snagged it 
through that soft 
and lidless spot, and the barb 

             came out through the front
of its face. I cried while 
my father removed it.

I watched while he filleted 
our catch, when he nailed 
a catfish to a board 

             and skinned it with pliers. 
What else can I say
about my cicada-sung 

childhood, when I learned to do
things I didn’t want to— 
years later when I danced 

             with a girl at prom, 
when I did not kiss 
the boy I drove home 

from school, when he 
offered. But when 
I was nine my trembling 

             hands were asked to hold 
the handle of a thin blade 
and cut. So I did—

and for what? A quarter-inch 
thick fillet, small victory. 
We ate the fish 

             with our hands, battered 
and fried on a camp stove.
When we stocked the pond, 

a mist came off 
the cascade of water 
and fish, the surface 

             of the pond was iridescent 
with some runoff 
or exhaust—all so I could sit 

in a camp chair, 
months later, picking 
little bones from my teeth.



And suddenly the ground opened 
so I could fall in. The hard clay 

                          opening its arms to feel like safety, 
holding my body like a bulb, 

             mother’s irises in the garden. The air thick
with cicada calls, the air hanging 

on skin. She’s at the window calling out
the varieties of corn in the field like

                          calling in children for dinner. 
But I am her only, her runaway. 

             At the table she reminds me
my blood runs red because it’s full 

of iron, red like the banks of the creekbed 
I fell down as a child, flat on my back, 

                          eyes and palms to the sky, gasping. 
My body remembers

             that labored breath, these old pollens. 
In the cabinet I find a cream 

to prevent scars from new wounds, 
another to reduce scars already set in.

                          But as a child I had no scars,
only musical names in my head before sleep,

             saying them aloud under the spinning fan,
Ambrosia, True Platinum, Silver Queen.