I encountered death at eight. Not people death, that happened at ten. Fish death, and autopsy, and undertaking. My grandmother, a petit but wiry thing, would knead leftover oatmeal into balls. These I gently inserted into a minnow trap, walked it down the dock and lowered away. Minnows entered and ate their last meal. They were hauled out of the water, flopping against wire until being poured into a concrete holding tank, then later netted into a bucket and put into a boat my grandmother and I went fishing in. She showed me how to put the hook through the muscle behind their head, crippling the minnow but not killing it, and would scold me if I killed one before it could enter a perch’s mouth and I could set the hook. Ten minnows would die in the bucket before being offered up the food chain. Two thirds were mouth mangled by perch, the rest dumped in the lake, too sickly to survive another trip to the holding tank. The bucket would be refilled with water and perhaps twenty just-dead perch. Enough to feed our family. We returned at dusk, too late for cleaning. The bucket went into well house water so cold it hurt our teeth to drink, until the next morning before breakfast, when I arrived bleary eyed with knife and scaler to perform surgery on stiff corpses in an aproned, ordained way. Slice the head almost off, then keeping the knife in place slice down the belly to the anus. Grasp the head and pull out the guts. Lop off the tail and slice down the back just left of the dorsal fins, then slice right and pull out the back fins. Then slice off the pelvic and anal fins. Then scraper time, both flanks, diligently. My hands and the front of my apron glitter coated with slime sticky scales rinse off with a hose, and again, and again Then cut out the backbone and filet out the tiny rib bones that could catch in our throats while eating. Then rigid inspection, flawed fish rejected and requiring a recleaning. The little pearly slabs were delivered to the refrigerator and I would try and fail to scrub away the smells of slime and guts. This I did twice weekly, for months, for years. And would do it all again if I could.
About the Poet:
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred fifty stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors.