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Fallen Leaf Lake
Judy Bebelaar

I make coffee, put biscuits in a sack,
crackers for the minnow trap
while Alan goes to get the tackle box, the poles.
The lake is smooth, floating spoons of light.

We climb down the hillside to the dock,
step into the borrowed boat
and head out, a knife
cutting the morning silence.

Toward Cathedral Peak,
gleaming necks like feathered arrows,
sleek green Mergansers slice into water for prey.
Alan casts the other way.

But from afar,
one duck catches the glitter of the wriggling bait.
And in a terrible flash,
its feathered beauty is caught on the hook.

He reels the bird in, carefully
pulls the flapping struggling wild thing
into the boat, cradling it in one arm and
reaches needle-nosed pliers down the long throat.

I hold my breath.
Can't pull the hook out without doing more damage‐
his voice full of gravel or tears.

He cuts the line as close to the hook as he can
and releases the terrified creature

which dives, then rises up
and flies toward Mt. Tallac,
the quiet of the morning
in its wake.

First published: Louisville Review (2010)  

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