haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Glenn G. Coats

 

Baptisms

I do not have photographs of my cousin Jack as an adult. I knew him as a child, and that is how I see him now.

I see him the night before trout season opens. We are up all night talking, picking through my fatherís ashtrays for butts long enough to smoke. In the morning, Jack puts on a new fishing hat, and his boots and creel are also new. There are new salmon egg hooks, golden, like earrings, and jars of Mikeís Lucky Seven Salmon Eggs that we lightly salt to toughen them up. We have corncob pipes and cherry tobacco hidden in our vests. By nightfall, our eyes bloodshot, and our hands smelling of rainbow trout, our mouths have been soured from the smoke.

early morning
I hook rubber boots
across the stream

One summer, I see us bobbing in black inner tubes under the pier. The pilings are covered with barnacles and waves from the bay are pushing us toward the pavilion. Above our heads, we hear the sound of bare feet and flip-flops on the wood and see the flash of bare legs as we peer up through the boards. There are screams from children flying down the water slide, some backwards, others headfirst on their stomachs. It is our own world as we drift along past crab lines, and voices mingle above us like a flock of birds.

summer breeze
I plant a radio
in the sand

A machine along the boardwalk takes our picture. It spits out tiny black and white shots of our crewcut heads, and Jackís smile is bigger than mine. His eyes are brighter. A year younger, yet he knows how to talk to girls, knows all the curses and sings them in a song, knows how to tell stories of witches and lunatics, and he knows how to pick a fight with a stranger. My cousin teaches me these things.

I see me not much later reading Jackís one letter from Vietnam, the one where he tells the truth, the horror, and the pain of it, but I am to promise to tell no one. He survives the war only to crash a motorcycle back in the States and for a time he is sucking food through a straw.

The years pass, and I send the Vietnam letter back to him. We exchange a few books and a few promises to get together and fish, then it stops. Telephone numbers and addresses change, trees and children grow up, and even now I wish we could wade across the South Branch and slip into that deep hole where for an instant our bodies and laughter are washed away together.

longer days
boys poach fish
in rusted cans

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