The Fish House
No sign out front
Where my Dad and I stopped and
Gazed in wonder during the day.
We came after the pre-dawn chaos of men and boats
Chugging into the darkness,
Of a shallow great lake with more frightening,
Fast-forming storms than any of the other great lakes.
The men drove their boats in that lake,
Fears well hidden
We stood silently, as did the Fish House
Remembering the men and boats
Already on the waters beyond our sight.
The village knew the grey peeling squat building
Flirtatious Hollyhocks beneath small muddy windows
That was the Fish House
And its swaying dock on the river.
Hand hewn timbers
Generations old built to last
For their children’s children.
All that the fathers created with care for their cherished children mattered.
Long before dawn
In night’s darkness
Low humming, sputtering diesels
Departed the Fish House
Into the darkness of the River,
Entering the lake beyond the lighthouse
Scattering apart to “their” place on the lake,
As their fathers’ fathers had agreed.
Unrolling their long nets with respectful love
Nets repaired by their fathers’ fathers,
and stories of joy and loss
The schools of fish in those years, so abundant,
Hard to imagine.
The men of old could haul in their nets
Quickly filled with fish.
When the village was closing, going home,
The boats were returning
Smoking diesels rolled a deep wake
To the Fish House.
Now everything changed.
No longer a quiet place of head nods
Hand gestured directives
For departing into the dark waters.
On their return
Deep in the water from the weight of the fish
Chaos reigned in the Fish House
as tasks were barked and hollered
Wise-cracks and guffaws
Pelting laughter and raucous back slaps
As if a dam of pent up testosterone
Had broken free. Hearts were full.
This too was the Fish House.
Beautiful pike, pickerel, perch,
white fish and walleye,
scooped up and tossed by the shovel load
others threw loads of ice
as the fish wiggled and flopped.
My Dad and I loved to enter the Fish House at dusk,
A place of well-ordered chaos and joy
From the father’s fathers.
When the village dentist arrived
With his beaming son,
One booming voice
“Hey Doc, got a beaut set aside for just you, Doc.”
My Dad would set aside his life, day or night,
When the phone rang from a fisherman or dock
Worker to pull a tooth.
To the question, “How much Doc?” He shy smiled
And opened the door, meaning, “I glad you called
And I could help you.”
That same Fish House
Now locked up for years
to generations of men in ordered chaos and joy and loss,
Flying ice and the beauty of fish now live in our hearts.
©2019 John Holliger