When you picked me up early
from school, I thought I was in trouble
and I clung to the door handle
in the van.
I had never been fishing with you before.
We pulled off along a dirt road
and carefully cleared a path
to a spot you liked.
You explained the difference between
Rainbows and Browns while I hooked
unsuspecting worms: jabbing
the end through the head
or the tail
and popping it out
a few stripes down.
It’s about time you boys start
calling me dad, you said.
I lost my first bite, but the second
and I won the fight,
reeling him to the bank
where you grabbed him: my first catch.
God damn suckerfish,
this is a garbage fish.
You unhooked him and let me see him
—glistening and golden, blood
unspooling from his lip—
before smashing him still
on a flat rock.
You sent him somersaulting
into the dirt.
That frosty night, we left them blended into the flannel quilt,
sneaking dirty words from heartpocket flasks
while we found a pickup game behind the bleacher stampede.
State’s marching band scored us as we crisscrossed the crisp
October five o’clock shadow of summer.
Our collisions weren’t moose clacks of facemasks and helmets
instead they were antelope hides slapping solid earth when feet
flipped skyward. Fistfights broke out, then up.
Ankles swiveled in cleat-tracks, loose knees landed charley horses
on skittering thighs, and one boy quit—bitten by the rabid dogpile.
But the game ended with a two-teamed huddle
around my brother: showing us what he’d seen during the game
and crept under the bleachers to swipe. He thumbed through $20
after eye-widening $20, before handing off
a few shushes to accessories. Make-up and Kleenex bunches: fumbled
to frostbitten mud. After scoring, he spiked the purse and tucked his gain
into his pocket. All of us scattered to the stands
where they were waiting to take us home, as it was almost bedtime.
Brandyn Johnson is a student in Eastern Kentucky University’s low-residency MFA program. He currently lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife, Anna. He is serving as the poetry editor for Eastern Kentucky’s literary magazine The Jelly Bucket. His poetry has appeared in The Green Bowl Review, Bluepepper online, CounterCulture online, and it has recently been accepted for future publication in The Dandelion Farm Review.