The Facts Of Catching

Jan 6, 2017

"Today’s poem is “The Facts of Catching” by Carl Little. He’s the author of Ocean Drinker: New & Selected Poems as well as many books about art, including Art of Acadia (with his brother David) and Eric Hopkins: Above and Beyond.

“The Facts of Catching” is about ice fishing. “When we caught a record fish from that pond,” he writes, “my father would lay it out on a piece of cardboard, draw its outline, then loosely sketch it in, noting ‘the facts of catching’ underneath. I still have his rendering of a record bass I caught when I was 10. His story, which I came to learn was about his father, not about him, always excited me: the danger of the ice, the mix of scolding and praise, and the ultimate reward: the record of the record fish.”"  

The Facts of Catching
by Carl Little

My father ice fishing at night
after his father forbade it
comes up with a pickerel
of record length
and runs
only to fall through
where it’s thin,
rushes glinting moonlight
ten feet away
till knees and elbows pull him to shore.

His father, storming
to be wakened so late,
admires the long body
still breathing,
staining the cardboard
on which, by tradition,
the largest fish alone
are outlined,
sketched in, the facts
of their catching
noted underneath:
hour, bait, fisherman.

And I, son and grandson,
attentive to the story’s
telling and retelling,
should be listed
as witness, except
I’ve got it all wrong,
I’m told years later:
grandfather was that boy
poorly dressed
for a midwinter’s vigil
on forbidden ice.

What’s the difference?
I answer back,
to myself:
as long as it’s understood
how magnificent fish
get caught, drawn,
handed down;
and how honor
may sometimes follow
a broken word
between son and father,

a shattered pond
freezing over in the background.

Poem copyright © 2006 Carl Little. Reprinted from Ocean Drinker, by permission of Carl Little.