Midnight at the Manatee

for Dad

On the drawbridge, cars crossed between Bradenton
and Palmetto while the tide ran out to the Gulf. 
You’d brought me out to your lucky spot, 
rigged me with gear, and told fishing tales.

Your lantern hung above the breeze-rumpled river, 
drawing fish to the disc of light shimmering
on the murky current that dragged my line 
back into the fringe of darkness. There

huge snook lurked, and waited for baitfish.
After a long time of nothing much
but watching the box-cars trundle and creak
across the nearby trestle, my rod jerked, 

bent double from the strike, the snook fighting
hard against the reel to break free until, at last, 
it lay spent atop the dark-green water.
Light glittered across its silver-gray scales. 

Thirty-nine inches from tip to tip, 
it must have weighed, I bet, almost forty pounds. 
You teased me as we passed another angler, offering
to carry my fish from the bridge as though it was yours.

Back at your apartment, your second wife,
Rusty, wanted to take a snapshot of the prize. 
As I proudly held that snook up shoulder-high
you seemed as happy as I had ever seen you.

You pointed a thumb at your puffed-up chest,
but I shook my head “no” with hair flying
and smiled when her camera flashed.