There are few things that make me feel more inadequate as a writer than reading the prose of a poet. It’s a theme I alluded to in my last blog, and one I’d like to explore further here. Somewhere, somehow, there ought to be a law against it. Poets pack more punch, more allusion, more innuendo—more everything—into two words than I can in 200.
My friend, Tim Conroy, from my writer’s group brought a poem for critique this week. He’d written it for a contest whose rules limited him to ten lines. The poem’s title was “Cane Pole.”
Cane Pole. Two words. For me those two words unlocked a flood of memories: fishing with my grandmother using a cane pole crouching on a rickety wooden floating dock bobbing in the waters of Lake Wylie. Often we were joined by a boy about my age, a dirt encrusted urchin who was tan and wore only cutoff blue jean shorts. He didn’t have a pole, cane or otherwise. He had a ball of monofilament fishing line and a hook. He’d drop his line through a knothole in one of the deck boards and go for the smaller fish. I saw him two summers in a row. I never knew his name. That was 45 years ago, but to me he’ll always be nine, grease streaked and smelling of suntan lotion.
Cane Pole—Most of the time my grandmother and I used balled up white bread as bait for the bream we wanted. Other times we’d stop off at a store and invest in minnows. Two stores were close to our fishing spot. Long’s had creaky wooden floors. It smelled of fresh-brewed coffee. Mr. Long sold crickets and minnows and artificial bait. He also sold canned pork & beans, fan belts, oil, and filter wrenches. The crickets provided a constant chirp in the background.
The other store, Mr. George’s, sold minnows, too. His store smelled of hot dog chili. Mr. George’s also had a radiating bullet hole in his glass front door. Someone tried to rob him, and he shot the man as he left the store. I never went there without being fearful that the robber—or another—would try again with me inside. Nearly fifty years later, that fear is still present, palpable even—all because of two words: cane pole, two words that make me yearn to find the poet inside me.