The stream in early spring,
And a boy arrives at its swollen banks to intercept a secret delivery to the lake:
A small-arms shipment of young pike.
The last of the cannibals, five or so inches in length, too well-fed to go on eluding the otters and herons,
They flee the marsh headwaters,
Bullet the bone-chilling stream
To vanish in the roiling outlet,
The raw, violent blue of the lake sloughing its scab of white winter ice.
And when he is quick and a bit lucky
And just to admire these bantam fiends
He can snatch one out of the frigid current,
Plunging his hand in the shocking cold as they torpedo past—
And the ones he hangs on to: what a sudden, slippery handful they are, writhing with ice-cold muscular power!
And already they are marvels of malevolence, these pike,
Less immature, it seems, than miniaturized: small precise replicas of the lake’s monsters,
The unsettling giants that wash up on the lakeshore bloated and leprous at the spring thaw, admissible evidence that the lake is more than a bathtub for powerboats, darker and deeper than a liquid cul-de-sac rimmed by quaint cottages—
That a missing toddler had wandered onto a dock and drowned in these waters, that a girl while swimming had absorbed an amoeba that horrifically devoured her brain, that an ice-angler snowmobiling to his shanty had plunged through its snowy mantle, his frozen body dramatically retrieved by scuba divers…
He can’t say why, but such grim dramas revisit the boy when the March whitecaps beach those lockjawed, walleyed, gruesomely spent predators.
The icy dagger in his hand is a masterwork of a royal armory,
The green-gold over ivory scaling glistening on his palm like inlaid gem;
But the inner fire of the blood-red gills, glimpsed at its gasps for air,
And the impenitent, carnivorous grin, of jaws already to be reckoned with—
The tiny crystalline teeth, he’s learned, are quick to slice open a careless thumb—
And the eye, inhumanly fixed and unblinking, blind to all illusions, its pupil a pane onto a benighted nowhere—no wonder, no fear, no comprehension:
This bare bodkin, this fatal vision—fatal to any benevolent Father above the boy:
Who could have forged this impeccable killer, and why?
And still its seems right that he should unhand it, send it safely back to the current,
Where instantly it streaks away in the fusillade homing for the lake,
The lake that is so rough, cold and deliriously blue.
There, venture too near an elder—a parent—and they will be devoured. They have nothing to dread so much as their kind, these young northern pike.
The boy, numb-handed now, jacketed against the last winter cold, is being strictly raised in the Catholic faith—in what he is growing to suspect are superstitions, desperate to impose a humanly bearable meaning on a heartlessly indifferent world.
And for the last time he wonders: Where had they lurked in Eden, these pike, with all of their God-given cruelty?
Their fit in the fallen world seems perfect.