The Derby

He takes lure, doubles the rod.
Must be male, feels more like competition
than romance. Five miles offshore
near the Hooter, the big one and I
test the filament between us.
He’s spooling the reel. Tighten drag
don’t line out! He turns. Retrieve!
He runs again, against the drag
against the tide. Reverse the boat.
Clumsy chase, backward, reeling
not steering. Tip up! Tip up!

Something else — a dark shadow
screeching gulls. What’s this?
Big dorsal fin. White belly rolls
casually. Longer than the transom
half a boat length away. Rubbing
across, the intruder’s skin thrums
our taut line. Hey, this is my fish!
It’s between him and me, not you.
Indifferent the shark lazes past,
confident of seals closer to shore.

My 7,000 pound boat and unweighed fish
are still connected by 12-pound line.
This fish is a Derby winner — our picture
will be in the paper, perhaps a little speech.
What would Hemmingway say?
Concentrate! Waves build, slop
over the stern. Arms tired. He must be too.
What are we going to do here, fish?
Then he lets go — he simply lets
go. No snap or parting strain.
Just a polite got-to-go dismissal.
There’s no sighting. There won’t be
a weigh-in, photos or speech. In fact,
there’s no evidence he was ever here.

                             — Don McLagan