Gary L. McDowell

Creative Nonfiction

Gary L. McDowell is the author of American Amen (Dream Horse Press, 2010) and co-editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press, 2010). His recent poems, essays, and stories can be found in Hotel Amerika, Sou’wester, Copper Nickel, The Bellingham Review, Burnside Review, and NANO Fiction. He is Assistant Professor of English at Belmont University in Nashville, TN where he lives with his family.

A Fish So Large

We dreamt we were fatherless. Motherless. Less. We dreamt we were astronauts. We dreamt we were architects and lived in houses with no walls, only windows and perches for our pet hawks, aquariums for the piranha we’d catch ourselves one day in the Amazon. We dreamt nomadically. We rode our bikes from Cary to Fox River Grove, from Fox River Grove to Cary, from Cary to Crystal Lake, sometimes all the way to McHenry or Bull Valley. We crossed county lines, squatted in mink farms, hiked through cornfields until we got lost, couldn’t orient ourselves, the sun above us hot and directionally useless. We lost, ourselves but never each other. We listened: “Have fun, boys. Be safe, and be back for dinner, please.” One of us always wore a watch. We fished every pond and backwards lake or stream we could find. Twelve years old. BMX bikes. A backpack full of peanut butter sandwiches, bottles of water or cans of Pepsi, some quarters if we had to call home in an emergency, and fishing gear: lures, hooks, sinkers, knives, pliers, bobbers, measuring tape, disposable cameras, week old chicken left-overs for the catfish, secured, of course, in airtight Ziploc bags. Each of us also carried two to three rods held cross-wise on our handlebars. We rode carefully. We rode hard. We fished. We sunburned. We dreamt of pike and bass, sunfish and gar, coyotes, snapping turtles, tits and ass. We flirted at the playgrounds found near so many little streams. The girls often ran off, and we’d laugh, nervously, unsure of ourselves or our purposes, and assume we’d get them next time. We had no idea what we’d do if you ever did get them. It didn’t matter. The three of us riding down the middle of the road took up the whole road. We sauntered. We sweat. We dreamt of fish so large we’d have to empty our packs on the shore just to fit them in, fish so large the girls on the playground might do to us what they would do to us if we caught a fish so large.

This micro-essay is part of a longer lyric-memoir of my childhood. I spent most of my childhood lakeside and riverside fishing, both for fish and for ideas about how to grow into this body, this headspace, this thing called manhood. I don’t know if it worked, if I ever grew up, but I sure did catch some nice fish and learned, certainly, a few things along the way.