The master of this river
chugs by in a johnboat.
Jeans and jacket smeared with slime,
he stinks of fish and gasoline,
the stubble on his weathered face
as rough as shoreline brush.
He’ll never blink.
The muck-brown eyes have seen it all—
glassy high-rise, hobo shack,
railroad baron, shackled slave,
sewage flows and floating dead.
He spits into the water.
And he tells you, as he draws his knife
and slices through a bait fish,
the wind that sweeps the clearest sky
will also drive the squall,
and even the accomplished eye
can fail to see
the snag beneath the backwater.
Sometimes when the moon bobs up
above the darkened cottonwoods,
you’ll see his boat and shadow
putter past the island sandbars,
churning out a wake of oily dreams.
—Tom Raithel (Vanderburgh County)
This poem is from Dark Leaves, Strange Light (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and originally appeared in Southern Poetry Review.
Tom Raithel grew up in Milwaukee, WI, and has worked as a journalist at several newspapers in the Midwest, including the Evansville, IN Courier & Press. Today he lives in Evansville with his wife, Theresa, and their dog, Sammy. His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, The Comstock Review, Nimrod, Midwest Quarterly, Atlanta Review, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, Open 24 Hours and other journals. His chapbook, Dark Leaves, Strange Light, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015.
Poetry Prompt: Someone at Work
Create a character sketch of someone who works somewhere for so long that he or she seems a part of that place. You might describe a farmer, security guard, street musician, clock repairperson, janitor, waitress, hardware store clerk, etc. How does the person’s daily environment and routine affect him or her?
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem and prompt every day in April. Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner selected these poems and wrote the prompts.