“Carving the Salmon” by John Engels POEM OF THE WEEK

I shape this piece
of curly maple into the rough
form of a salmon on

my bandsaw, s fine, sour sweet smell
of sawdust. a hint of scorching and smoke
because the blade is dull, cut

the side shape first. then the top.
And then it is recognizable, a fish,
and ready for finishing.  It quivers

a little at the skew chisel, flinches
at the spoon bit.  With the straight gouge
I give it eyes, and with the veiner, gills,

and it leaps a little in my hand.  Now
that it sees and breathes, it starts
to flop and suffocate.  It becomes

much harder to hold.  But it will be
a long while before I learn
to fashion the blood.


This poem of John’s appeared in The Hollins Critic and can still be found in Sinking Creek from The Lyons Press in NYC and his huge collected (600 pages) Recounting the Seasons from Notre Dame University Press.  I post it not to make commentary but to bask in its simple beauty and sense of the magical and natural as one.  John could play the trombone, the autoharp and any trout you ever met, but he crossed over the river a decade back.    This week the mayflies are darting and lighting in my house, especially at night when all the lights are out but my lamp and its reflection in a glass of Aberlour.  How could my usual thinking of him not increase and overwhelm?  Wherever he is, corporeal or not, I hope the trout are leaving the grassy shallows to rise at an artfully tied fly.


recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.