Edward Harkness: “In the High Sierra”


In the thin Sierra air, after 10 rutted jeep track miles
above Tahoe, near tree-line, the scent of pine pitch

heavy in August heat, Uncle Charles believes he’s found
a certain section of a certain creek where we will fish

for lunker cutthroats my cousin Will says are big as our forearms.
Maybe we’ll find browns or goldens hungry for our lures,

the flash of silver in pools where blue turns black.
I’ve never fished. My casts immediately snag in willows

drooped above a pool. Will’s the pro. His line keens from the reel
to the precise point where the eddy curls like a cat asleep,

cat of all colors—rock shade, leaf green, sun-patch, one
prism-edged cloud. Life is pointless. I’m snarled, pole half-mooned,

my tugs futile till the twig snaps, the silver spinner bullets my way.
I shield my eyes. The hook embeds in the pad of my thumb,

barb protruding. I want to yelp. I will not yelp. I’m fifteen.
I yank. The hook comes away with a red morsel of my flesh.

Will pushes aside the willow drapery to ask Any bites?
The look on his face when he sees my thumb. The look.

He can’t know in three years he will find himself in Quang Tin
Province, a helicopter mechanic. That’s gotta hurt, he says.

I forget the pain. We’re on the patio of heaven. He peels
a bandage he found in his tackle box. Blood drips on my bare knee,

on my white shorts, in the creek’s wavy glass. He can’t know
he has three years and odd months to live. Only I know that.

I know it without knowing it. Near midnight, three plus years
from now, the phone will ring. I’m the one who will take the call.

Edward Harkness is the author of three full-length poetry collections, Saying the Necessary, Beautiful Passing Lives, and most recently, The Law of the Unforeseen (Pleasure Boat Studio Press, 2018).

Table of Contents | Next Page