Anglers Journal - - CONTENTS - By AN­DREW HUD­GINS

A poet re­calls be­ing lost in saw­grass as a boy, afraid of noth­ing, work­ing his way from fresh wa­ter to salt un­til he was saved from things he didn’t want to be saved from.

I worked the river’s slick banks, grab­bling in mud holes un­derneath tree roots.

You’d think it would be dan­ger­ous, but I never came up with a cooter or cot­ton­mouth hung on my fin­ger­tips. Oc­ca­sion­ally, though, I leapt up­right, my fin­gers hooked through the red gills of a mud­cat. And then I thrilled the thrill my fa­ther felt when he burst home from fishing, drunk, and yelled, well be­fore dawn, “Wake up! Come here!” He tossed some fat­wood on the fire and flames raged, spat and flick­ered. He held a four-foot mud­cat. “I caught it!” he yelled. “I caught this mon­ster!” At first, dream-dazed, I thought it was some­thing he’d saved us from. By fire­light, the fish gleamed wickedly. But Fa­ther laughed and hugged me hard, press­ing my head against his coat, which stank, and glit­tered where dried scales caught the light. For break­fast, he fried enor­mous chunks of fish, the whole house glo­ri­ous for days with their rich stink. One scale stuck to my face, and as we ate he blinked, un­til he un­der­stood what made me glit­ter.

He laughed, reached over, flicked the star off of my face. That’s how I felt

— that wild! — when I jerked strug­gling fish out of the mud and held them up, long mus­cles shud­der­ing on my fin­gers.

Once, grab­bling, I got lost. I traced

the river to the marsh, ab­sorbed with fishing, then ab­sorbed with ants.

With a flat piece of bark, I’d scoop red ants onto a black-ant hill and watch. Then I would shovel black ants on a red-ant hill to see what dif­fer­ence that would make.

Not much. And I re­turned to grab­bling, then skim­ming stones. Be­fore I knew it,

I’d worked my way from fresh wa­ter to salt, and I was lost. Saw­grass waved, swayed, and swung above my head. Pushed down, it sprang back. Slashed at, it slashed back. All I could see was saw­grass. Where was the sea, where land? With every step, the mud sucked at my feet with gasps and sobs that came so close to speech

I sang in har­mony with them.

My foot­prints filled with brine as I walked on, still fas­ci­nated with the sweat bees, hor­nets, bur­row bees; and, God for­give me, I was not afraid of any­thing. Lost in saw­grass,

I knew for sure just up and down. Al­most enough. Since then, they are the only things I’ve had much faith in.

Night fell. The slow moon rose from saw­grass. Soon af­ter­ward I heard some cries and an­swered them. So I was saved from things I didn’t want to be saved from. Ma tested her green switch

— zip! zip! — then laid it on my thighs, oh, maybe twice, be­fore she fell, in tears, across my neck. She sobbed and combed my hair of cock­le­burs.

She laughed as she dabbed al­co­hol into my cuts. I flinched. She chuck­led.

And even as a child, I heard, inside her sobs and chuck­ling, the lovely suck­ing sound of earth that fol­lowed me, gasped, called my name as I stomped through the mud, wrenched free, and heard the earth’s voice un­der me.

“Child on the Marsh” from Af­ter the Lost War by An­drew Hud­gins. Copy­right © 1988 by An­drew Hud­gins. Reprinted by per­mis­sion of Houghton Mif­flin Har­court Pub­lish­ing Com­pany. All rights re­served.

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