Every summer the editor at the magazine where I work invites everyone, in groups of 10 or so, to his place for dinner. To make it even more enticing, he sent this email: “I need from each of you a haiku (or otherwise-styled poem) about some aspect of your childhood. I’ll read them aloud at the dinner and everyone can guess who wrote what. Bad idea? Perhaps! But we’re doing it!” So I’ve been trying to come up with a poem that’s appropriately clever (everyone’s an English major, after all) that shares something interesting but not too personal. Since it’s summer, I decided to write about summer. My childhood summers have taken on a golden glow in my memory. Swimming at the pool, eating watermelon, long family vacations in the station wagon, gardening with grandma and grandpa, fishing... Hmmm, fishing...
I walk out to the garden with Grandpa. He shovels deep. I paw through the dirt, pulling out worms. “We want the big, fat ones,” he says. “Nightcrawlers.” We drop the biggest worms we can find in a coffee can. He throws a little dirt on top and I press on the plastic lid that has air holes punched in it.
The next morning we all wake early. Mom already made stacks of ham sandwiches. Dad is making lemonade in the big green thermos. Six trays of ice cubes go in. I carry it, heavy and rattling, out to the car. It’s stuffed with the cooler, tackle boxes, fishing poles, and the three of us kids. (Mom stays home, of course. There’s a photo I love of her and Dad before they were married the one time she went fishing with him. She’s wearing a cashmere sweater, which is hardly standard fishing attire.)
We drive over to grandma and grandpa’s and pick them up. Then the endless-seeming, 40-minute drive to Grass Lake. Before Dad bought his own boat, we would rent one from this Polish family he knew that owned a restaurant and dock on the lake. I sit on the dock watching the dragonflies or walk around the edges of the lake looking for frogs until Dad has the boat loaded. Then we spend the entire day on the lake, three adults and three kids in a rowboat.
Grandpa baits the hook for me. My brother jeers at me for being so squeamish, but I can’t even watch. I feel sorry for the worm. It was so happy living in the dirt until we dug it up, pierced its body with a sharp hook and threw it in the water to drown or be eaten. I also feel sorry for the poor, dumb fish. Swimming along happily, seeing a tasty snack, thinking everything’s hunky dory, then being jerked out of the water to its death. I feel sorry for me, too, for having such a mean brother. Why do I even go fishing? I could have stayed home with Mom. But I like being outside, sitting in the gently rocking boat under the hot sun drinking ice-cold lemonade. And despite my sensitivity to the worms and fish, it’s exciting to see the bobber suddenly dunk under the water and to pull the struggling fish to the surface. “I got one!” It’s usually a bluegill or a perch. Sometimes it’s my dad’s favorite: a catfish.
At the end of the long day, we have hamburgers at the Polish family’s restaurant. Polkas play nonstop on the jukebox and my dad polkas with me on the dance floor. Then the best part of any fishing trip: we stop at Dairy Queen on the way home.
So this is my haiku:
I feel so sorry
for the worms, the fish, and me.
But then, Dairy Queen!