Trout Fire

In the cold January air, I smell wood fire. I’m wading a small river…  [by Gary Metras]

In the cold January air, I smell wood fire.

I’m wading a small river in a state forest.

Sky of scattered clouds, dark trees, dark water,

but no smoke, no flame. Except the bright

streaks of rainbow trout I catch then release

to appease some angry deity. I cast the weighted

nymph of hope, glance up both riverbanks,

and still no blaze, but the smell grows. I know

how flames will melt the snow without ever

smacking ground, how flames devour oxygen,

even from water, and how every breathing

thing could die a double death, drowning

then burning. I know how flames can leap

a river from treetop to treetop, scorching

everything below. I light a match for a cigarette

but icy wind blows it out, my own flare

insignificant. Then two matches at a time, twice,

before I inhale tobacco, but burnt wood tastes

stronger. Then a red flash of trout like iron

striking flint as the fish turns in shallow water

to take the nymph. A few wary minutes later,

I lift its head barely above waterline, kneel

to retrieve my fly, and wonder if it knows

the smell of forest on fire. I see infernos

engulfing me and sins condemning me.

What prayers could now mollify? The trout

swims its fiery flank to the deep pool down-

stream, its innocence no protection, its water

no haven, and I think, That’s where I’ll stand

if flames begin to lash this flow. There,

with the fish, I’ll drown in fire and water.

Some splashes upstream. Are deer rushing

from fire, eyes wide, their white rims reflecting

blood? But it’s another fisherman, rounding

the bend upwind, with a cigar smoking and

glowing and stinking. So in the January air,

imagination and trout the only conflagrations.

Gary Metras’s latest book of poems is Two Bloods: Fly Fishing Poems (Split Oak Press 2010).