The torchlight shines bright in the night
making the riverbed in front crystal clear.
The fisherman is not a brawny man,
just an old reed with a straw beard.
Sweetfish hiding in the river lured
by the light come drifting up.
In the days of the Shogun, Royals
would watch the old straws
release their gold ring cormorants
into the glow of the Oi river night.
Their would be so many boats lined up,
the sweetfish had no path to take.
The kindled torches would reflect off
the rushing rapids the sweetfish sorrow.
Today, the reed fishes for the wealthy tourists,
regurgitating from the cormorant’s throat
the rare sweetfish that must be thrown
back to restock the Oi for the next show.
Still, the cormorant released from its basket
sleep takes him unawares, startles him open
with the beauty of its tattered black wings
stretching back, its stick feet, the head
sharp as the thrust of a samurai sword.
He releases his child onto the crooning Oi.
Tethered by the slimmest lasso
it lands in a single fluid act, graceful
upon the slippery and shining water.
The sword’s head stabs the brightness
and dives into the darkness, emerging
with a sweetfish struggling in its throat.
A gentle gesture of hand and face urges
the cormorant to return to the boat.
The old reed squeezes with a practice hand
the cormorant’s neck against the boat.
The shocked sweetfish comes tumbling out.
The still hungry cormorant dives again and again.
The old reed adjusts the lantern, pounds
the boat’s sides with his oars, enticing
more sweetfish to be lured and caught,
until his dear sweet child is tired and
seeks the comfort of its basket crib, it staring
at his river father. The reed smiling back,
the two happy yet sad in the little boat,
for the old reed will not return next year.
His son has learned the trade like thousands
of other once brawny sons 1300 years before.