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A Prayer to the Gods of Fishing Dogs

by Rosanne Griffeth

My brother stood on the platform of the flats boat and became poetry. 

His companion, the Labrador with the box head and chocolate drop eyes followed every move of the fly. Each time the fly presented, Zeke tensed. I placed a hand on his neck, feeling his muscles rippling under sharp black fur. He was an arrow begging to be loosed.

His jaw tightened as fly kissed water. He stood, front legs braced on the bow and his hind ones in the boat. Toenails scratched against fiberglass, seeking purchase, and his tail thumped against my thigh. Zeke offered me a glance, his tongue slipping from the side of his mouth. He wanted to bark, but that was forbidden just yet.

My brother tensed like Zeke--his movements controlled and precise. One hand fed fly line while the other skipped the fly like a pebble. We looked, as we had a hundred times that day, our Ray-Bans cutting the glare, seeking dark forms swimming beneath the glass.

In the transcendent moment when fish met fly and surged from the blue-green shimmer of the river, all beauty and violence lipped on a barbless fly, my brother matched his movement to the redfish dance, allowing it to lead. Zeke lent his voice, his dog voice like a seal’s cry, to the music of singing reel and straining rod. He was joyous, blood coursing through muscle and sinew, teeth biting air and whirling in ecstasy. He looked to us, praying his prayer—the prayer to the gods of fishing dogs.

The redfish came to us, tired from dancing. Zeke watched, as it swam alongside the flats boat and barked his approval. I slid a wet hand down the leader for the release, Zeke all aquiver by my side. He looked at my brother with confusion every time the fish made its insulted escape. Zeke never believed in catch and release.

We flew home past the marsh, our hair blowing and our eyes watering. Zeke stood on the bow, a figurehead, his black lips flapping and wind fluttering his cheeks. When the boat slowed for the wake zone, a porpoise sounded, her pod rising in her shadow. The big Lab leapt overboard, sailing out of the boat, and struggled to catch them. His breath chuffed in the salt and his otter’s tail ruddered him, but he was too late that time. They were his brethren and he wanted to live like that, wet and sliding through fluid as we did through air.

He died an old dog. My brother took his ashes to the redfish flats, mounting the platform to make the line sing a prayer to the gods of fishing dogs. The porpoises came, and Zeke’s ashes swam away.

Copyright © 2008 Rosanne Griffeth

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Rosanne Griffeth's work can be seen in Writer's Eye Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, Keyhole Magazine, Cautionary Tale, Static Movement, The Dead Mule and Dew on the Kudzu. She lives on the verge of the GSM National Park with her herd of goats and spends most of her time writing and documenting Appalachian culture. She is the blogger behind The Smokey Mountain Breakdown.