Diving for the Anchor

When you were my living father, I thought of you as you,

alone. Now that you’re long dead, I think of you and me

as us, together, not that we were closer than most

fathers and sons who can’t say what should be said,

the unspoken words between them a great gauzy silence

ever after, as on the moonless night we fished the

Miles River, a tributary of the Chesapeake, skidding our

johnboat into an early autumn’s slacking, our fishing

rods angled on the gunnels. Nettles billowed the pilings,

cottonwood and locust sapped the brackish air as

the lulling water swirled us into an outgoing tide,

tugging us midstream where you tossed the anchor

overboard and heard it splash, no chain securing

it to the boat, the lead shank long gone in deep water.


“We’ve lost the damn anchor!” you swore to high

heaven, and as the outwash eddied us bayward you

stripped off your shirt, shoes, and shorts and dove in,

roiling the dark water to gulp you under into perfect oblivion,

leaving the child I was alone with night sounds — a screaky

covert of moorhens, cicada crescendos, the coo and stutter

of a cormorant — and I knew, at that moment, you were

the bravest man who ever lived. I could feel your fingers

probing the busted soda bottles, tangled tackle, and rusting

beer cans, groping amid the grass eels, hogfish, and bristle

worms. I held the longest breath I’d ever held and prayed,

prayed, for your deliverance, and mine. And sure enough

the surface riffled, the waters parted, and you burst

foaming into still air, anchor in hand, and clacked it

onto the sloshing deck, pulling yourself free of the current,

your body slick with river slime, and grasping the oarlock,

rolled into the rocking boat.


I sighed my only true sigh, longing for the wisdom

you’d dredged from the foulest netherworld, testimony

that life is more than the taking in and letting out

of breath by a father and son adrift beneath a thin haze

of stars. Having plumbed dead bottom, you’d been

resurrected to impart a consoling truth, a glistening

coin I could tuck in the pocket of memory. You obliged:

“Wish I had a nickel,” you said, “for every kid who’s

pissed in this river.”

— Stephen E. Smith

Stephen E. Smith’s most recent book is A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths.

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