Darrel L. Hammon
Like prophets, country creeks call
little boys on missions. They come
with fish poles, Zebco reels,
school milk cartons stuffed
with night crawlers caught between
pudgy fingers and black flashlights
the night before. Railroad culverts, old ones
whose tracks do not feel
the grinding wheels anymore,
make the best fishing holes.
The boys have come to baptize
night crawlers, hoping to convert
a Cutthroat or two.
One boy tosses in his line, lets the water suck it
into the culvert like chocolate milk through a straw.
The others find their places on the other side
where fast water has hollowed out a hole
big enough for trout and suckers.
Like missionaries at a revival,
the boys wait for Cutthroats
to take a liking to their gospel:
crawlers smooshed on #6 hooks.
While water gurgles through the culvert,
the boys squat on the bank, watch
water cress grow, while water skippers scoot
along the edge, disappearing in the dangling weeds;
cotton from the cottonwoods drift cautiously down
until the swift water captures them,
swirling them downstream and beyond.
Before too long, the boys begin to ripen
in the hot sun, forget their missions
and poles and worms; they strip
to their cut offs, hidden beneath their jeans
and fill the hole with bigger fish
who do not need bait to entice them
to rise to the surface. The cool water stops
the ripening, and laughter scares the Cutthroats
downstream where they watch the baptisms
over and over and wait to return to study
their own religion in deep shadows of the culvert.