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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Micro-CNF: 409 words
By Jo Tyler

I Got It


On the Bass River that flows through Cape Cod in Massachusetts, I learned not to fish. My father took me out in a pink boat with a black Mercury outboard motor that my grandfather won in a poker game. We didn’t have a pole for me so my Dad gave me a drop line, a simple wood frame wrapped in braided line with a hook of peril on the end. You unwind the line into the water like you would unwind an old-fashioned kite-line into the air. My Dad warned me about eels in the river. “They’ll get your hook and eat your line all the way up to your hand. If you get one, just let go. For anything else that tugs on your line, you hang on. Got it?”

“I got it.”

My father did not tell me about sea robins in the Bass River. So when a bony prehistoric fish-bird broke through the water to fly above it, gnawing up my line toward me as fast as any eel, I clung to my dropline. This was no eel. Even when its slippery skin touched my fingers I could not let go. “For anything else that tugs on your line, you hang on. Got it?” I got it. I got the anything else, a panicky dinosaur at my fingertips. One of us was screaming. In a flash, with my Dad’s hand on mine, the sea robin fell to the floor of the boat, flapping, flipping, flailing so wildly no one could catch or kill it. I did not fish again.

Decades later, my Dad couldn’t even catch his breath and it killed him. Even with no eels in sight, I had to let go. I let go of my kind prince. He can’t coax me into trying something new, something scary that might just be fun. He can’t put his hand on mine. He can’t save me from the prehistoric creature that is my grief, an ancient ache, a bony beast, a committed companion. Some days I feel like I’m in the sun, on dry land, but I am not healed, only humored. Grief always surfaces, skimming towards me above a choppy sea, ready to eat up my heartstrings faster than any eel. Then I know. I am cast in an undulating sisterhood with grief, and it has been swimming alongside me the whole time. I got it. I cannot catch or kill it.

Jo Tyler
Issue 23 (April 2024)

is a queer poet, storyteller, and visual artist. A former Penn State professor and Fortune 500 Vice President, Jo retired into the social vacuum of Covid-19 and returned to poetry after decades of writing prose in academia and business. Delighted to be building a community of creative writers, she holds an abiding belief in the power of small groups to accomplish great things, from achieving social justice in organizations to workshopping a poem that just isn’t quite there yet. A member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, Jo lives in Baltimore with her wife Gail and her dog Moxie.

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