A Wager

Jeff Ewing

Below an outcrop of black lava that bent the tracksand made the train wheels shriek, between the loose screeof the embankment and the soft, sponging                  grass of the riverbank,I made a wager with myself: If I caught one that morning—brown, rainbow, cutthroat, it didn't matter which—if I could land just one fish, the baby                  would be healthy.It was a little game I played with myself, nothing more.If this then that, if that then this—an illusion of controlwhere there was no control, only chance,                  a turning over of cards.The cliffs on the far side leaned close, breathing haze ontothe water, the deep lies along the cutbank were still in shade.I stepped in, cast up toward an eddy folding                  the current along hidden rifts,and waited...knowing the strike would come, but caughtall the same when the pale belly flashed and the leader,then the line, went taut and dove                  toward the memory of deeper water.I set the hook lightly (out of caution, too lightly)as the trout turned downstream, counting on the current to draw it awayfrom the monofilament tangent,                  the beaded treachery of air.Every muscle straining against the pull, its willcompressed into one thought, it thrashed its head and threwthe hook...When the line went slack                  I didn't reel in right away; I stoodwhere I was and let the current, bitter cold with lastyear's snow, push against my legs. I looked into the riffleswhere the light disappeared among polished stones,                  and waited for the end—for fate in the guise of a bent-nose mobster to wadeupstream from Reno and collect; to force me to go on, to livewithout my finger tightly clenched, just once, by a hand                  too delicate for line mending.I thought I had lost everything, I thought I would be heldto my wager—then I began to argue: If the world of the wagerwere true, if that was my daughter silvering away downstream,                  then the twist of head that freed the hookwas her choice, no one else’s. And I thought—I'd better get used to that. Because one day, a day like this, a dayfull-up with sun and loss, with clear water and hubris,                  she'll turn her head, smile and go—and won’t have the time, even if she wanted, to watchthe brush go pale with heat, to feel the weightless line draw "S"eson the surface film, to know the house has forgiven all debts,                  to join me on the long walk home.

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In addition to the poetry collection Wind Apples published by Terrapin Books, Jeff Ewing is the author of the short story collection The Middle Ground from Into the Void Press. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Subtropics, Willow Springs, Crazyhorse, Southwest Review, ZYZZYVA, River Teeth, Utne Reader, and Catamaran. He lives in Sacramento, California.

West Caldwell, New Jersey

"Because 'the past denies that one long night ago it was the future,' Ewing's collection speaks to timelessness as both conqueror and protector. The poems evoke a natural world at odds with humanity and the violence that accrues when the two intersect. Each poem is mired in suspense, waiting: for death-or worse, for catastrophic failures to occur that will render the world unalterably changed. Grappling with time and mortality and loss, Ewing honestly and deftly renders a present in which there is much to be mourned because there is much to love, even that which, once witnessed, is shed as 'living ash floating up and up and up.'"
—Chelsea Dingman

"Man and nature are both at odds and in harmony in Jeff Ewing's Wind Apples. Ewing understands that 'we are raised for reasons that aren't ours, plans so obscure we may never know their past.' A less accomplished observer might find this a reason for despair, but Ewing reminds us of 'spring pulsing inside...waiting.' It is this acceptance of the interwoven nature of our existence, where the longing for a child echoes in a car's refusal to start, the catching of a fish predicts a child's health, that makes Ewing's debut so striking."
—Al Maginnes

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