FOR MY FATHER, WHO FEARS I’M GOING TO HELL

BY CINDY MAY MURPHY

and who last week spent three hours wading
through the dregs of the just-drained pond
whose former owner had assured him
could not support life. Though as the last
brown water gave way to grime, he bore witness
to the rip-flash of five slivered backs struggling
like sharks in sand—mudcats, he called them—
all on the verge of a bright, dry death
in the inadequate air. For my father, who worked
without waders through the afternoon, grappling
toward their slick, sharp bodies with bare hands,
who twice swallowed pond scum, twice
lost a shoe to the suction of sludge, and once
fell prone in the mire—a seven pound catfish
with skin-piercing fins cradled in his arms.
For my father, who rinsed their silt-laced gills
and bathed each muck-thick body
with a hose, who placed them gently
into white buckets of water, called up friends
and neighbors, anyone with access to a lake
or large enough tub, anyone who would promise
not to slice the round bellies, not to spill
their polished viscera. And for my father,
who for the first time in months, slept
the deep untroubled sleep of a man who neglected
nothing—of a man, who for at least one night
had saved all in this life that he could.