O Trout

Gary J. Whitehead


My manhood’s muscled brother,
my frowning other,
your death is a river I return to
like a lover whose love drowned there,
and now the whole village,
once a year, launches
a flotilla of glowing boats.
How would my sadness,
hidden on a hook, look to you?
I keep it still in a Styrofoam box,
where it wraps around
my other sadnesses
and probes the dark loam
for its release.
Meanwhile the river.
Meanwhile the sea.
Upriver, no one has heard
of the one night in April
when the caravan’s lanterns
pass along the wet road.
Downriver, a tavern
has been erected in your name.
I stop there sometimes,
when the river is high
with winter melt,
and sip at life by the fire.
Forgive the barb.
Forgive the needle-nosed pliers.
I tried to revive you.
I’ve tried to live as you do,
facing the current,
seeking the least resistance,
watching the shimmering flotsam
between me and what can’t be breathed.


Gary J. Whitehead’s poems recently appear or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Epoch, and The Massachusetts Review. His third book of poetry, A Glossary of Chickens, was chosen by Paul Muldoon for the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets and published in 2013 by Princeton University Press. His work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s NPR program The Writer’s Almanac and on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Guardian’s Poem of the Week. Whitehead has been the recipient of the Anne Halley Poetry Prize (The Massachusetts Review), a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and the Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award. A featured poet at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival and the Princeton Poetry Festival, he teaches English at Tenafly High School in New Jersey and lives in the Hudson valley of New York.