Remembering Grandpap

i remember my grandfather
sitting still as dawn
in the prow of his old boat
a straw hat pulled low
over his eyes
a wad of garrett's snuff
buried under his lip
clutching his fishing rod
with the kind of patience
a kid like me found
hard to come by

once fishing kentucky lake
near hog hollow we didn't
heed the coming clouds until
it was almost too late
the whitecaps breaking over
the sides of the small boat
the little engine chugging
we made a run for a small island
sitting green in blowing rain
in the middle of the sprawl
of rolling muddy water
an old man and woman
neither of whom could swim a lick
and a 12 year old boy
who could but not that far

the boat dragged up on the sandy bank
we found partial shelter under
under a clump of heavy undergrowth
hunkered down under there drawn up
against the crack of lightning
and the howl of wind and rain
coming across the earth sideways
i remember my grandmother's old
blue eyes and how they twinkled
with excitement because granny
wasn't afraid of the devil armed
with a circle saw

the storm passed as storms do
and soon we were on our way chugging
across tossed water to the pumphouse
where the dike split the backwater
and big catfish lurked among the rocks
near the edge where the suction pulled through
inside the concrete building a maelstrom of
churning water filled with white bellies
of dead shad and the roar of big engines
moving water unnaturally uphill and
across the tongue of green bank

i think now that i am now older than
my grandfather was that day and i have
not yet come close to drowning one of my
grandchildren and what they have missed
because of that and what i have missed
because of the miles and time between us
my grandchildren will remember me as
a vague stranger they saw on rare occasions
an old man who wrote things and smoked too much
and sometimes laughed too loud when he drank
too much and sometimes showed them how to
do this or that or the other

i remember my grandfather as the short squat
man with the straw hat in the boat with
his beloved fishing tackle and sometimes if
the melancholy comes i recall his last minutes
lying in a hospital bed his face twisted by
the ravages of a stoke and how he gripped my hand
just minutes before he died and tried to say
it's all right son with his paralyzed lips
and a few minutes later the doctor came out and
said he's gone

a couple days later in the graveyard i could
almost hear him whisper   
don't talk son
the fish will hear you