Three Poems by Rick Mulkey
Discovering an Abandoned Orchard Near Bluefield, VA
The air rings with riffles
and diphthongs of roiling pools, a melody
we’d nearly forgotten. We’ve arrived,
my nephews and I, after a year of pandemic
isolation and distance, to fish Crooked Creek.
With only a few brief greetings,
a handshake with the oldest,
quick hugs from the younger two,
they go straight to it and begin to cast
but the river doesn’t bite.
One, the middle boy, trips and falls
against the stony bank, his knee
scraped raw from gravel whorled
and washed up from recent floods.
The oldest brother reaches out a hand.
Later they’ll likely fight,
as young brothers do, and slam their bodies
together with abandon, but not now.
I’m nearly 60 and they so very young,
one day they’ll find memory unable
to travel the future, recall this morning
or how I helped them tie the bloodknot,
slip grubs on hooks. Their skin tender
and easily pierced, mine calloused
against sharpened barbs. I love
how eager they are, especially the smallest boy
who casts then reels, then casts again,
confident as only the youngest of us
can be, and how patient he is
for the tightening line,
how thrilled when, finally, he and his brothers
realize the explosion of fish rising in air, flinging
its coiled flank at the endless sky.