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American Life in Poetry

Although this poem by North Carolina native Ron Rash may seem to be just about trout fishing, it is the first of several poems Rash has written about his cousin who died years ago. Indirectly, the poet gives us clues about this loss. By the end, we see that in passing from life to death, the fish’s colors dull; so, too, may fade the memories of a cherished life long lost.


Speckled Trout

Water-flesh gleamed like mica:

orange fins, red flankspots, a char

shy as ginseng, found only

in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear

of faraway creeks no map

could name. My cousin showed me

those hidden places. I loved

how we found them, the way we

followed no trail, just stream-sound

tangled in rhododendron,

to where slow water opened

a hole to slip a line in

and lift as from a well bright

shadows of another world,

held in my hand, their color

already starting to fade.


First published in Weber Studies, 1996, and reprinted from Raising the Dead, Iris Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Copyright 1996 by Ron Rash, a writer and professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, whose newest novel is Saints at the River, Picador Press, 2005. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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