In this strangest of all winters here in Wisconsin, where there is very thin ice indeed, at a time when it should be solid and safe, I drag out this piece I wrote back in '06:
I lead you out onto these preliminary lines
like an old fishing buddy
walking on the season’s first thin ice,
unsure we won’t slip beneath the surface,
gulping at the depth,
but certain this is the day for keepers,
gleaming in cold silver and gulping, too,
as they slip into the sky above their homes.
I coax you toward the center of this verse,
towing tools of the trade in a little sledge
that follows on faith,
bore a hole through the fragile freeze
where we wait, shiver, wait.
I try simile, metaphor, then rhyme for bait
and I talk of patience
and barely notice the nibbling of a thought,
now hooked and struggling liquid,
muscle and tooth and blood
this idea, hungry, as a lover takes a lure,
a snap, a relaxing,
and it’s swimming free –
this thing I’ll never grasp –
hooks torn from its legendary flesh,
laughter from its lips.
Smile at me, swimmer, smile at me.
~ Ralph Murre
"The work of writers, I say, has much in common with the work of these Arctic fishermen. The writer has to look for the river, and if he finds it frozen over, he has to drill a hole in the ice. He has to have a good deal of patience, weather the cold and the adverse criticism, stand up to ridicule, look for the deep water, cast the proper hook, and after all that work, he pulls out a tiny little fish. So he must fish again, facing the cold, the water, the critic, eventually landing a bigger fish, and another and another."