October 14th, 2008

I’ve been captured by the villanelle lately. It’s a very precise poetic structure with both a rhyme scheme and a pattern in which two lines – introduced with the first and the third lines – are repeated at specified intervals. It does not come easily to me; I find it difficult to pull off a natural, lyrical villanelle. And yet I find myself writing them. I have heard it said – or read it written? – that the villanelle, circling back as it does to those two key lines, is a good form in which to explore obsessions, recurring events, memories one cannot, does not want to, escape. It’s a good form to use when a few images have you by the throat and won’t let go.

The villanelles I’ve been writing are about my father. I remember my father best as a fisherman. As the years pass and specific details fade – what shampoo did he use? what did his voice sound like? what was he wearing the last time I saw him alive? what was he dressed in for his funeral? – there is still a  tightly held clutch of memories, solid like river rocks in my fist, that I can still see, taste, hear almost two decades after his death. Almost always, these memories, these moments, are connected to my father’s life as a fly-fisherman and to the places that life took him, took us. Invariably my memories of my father are bound up with the waters he fished, the waters that became the companions of my childhood and the rivers to which I always, though years may pass, return. The places I love and the ways I love them have everything to do with this simple fact: my father was a fisherman.

That is the line I cannot let go of. The line that will not let go of me. That is what I return to like a salmon to her spawning ground. That is my one true thing.

My father was a fisherman.

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