childe hassam
In the Afternoon, She Smelled like the Earth
by Marianne Peel

Her shoulders were always burned.
We had smeared ourselves with baby oil infused with iodine
painting our skin a burnt orange deeper than the marigolds
planted in a circle to protect
the lettuce from the woodchucks.

She taught me how to thread
A frenetic worm onto a crooked hook.
Digging around in that coffee can tin
wet with dirt and the roots of the soil
there was always humid mud under her nails.

Sometimes trails streaked her cheeks
after she pushed her hair off her face.
In the afternoon she smelled
like the earth after the sun
went way, way down.

She taught me to cast my line
flinging her whole arm back past her shoulder
all in one calculated, measured motion.
She said the splash on the water should be quiet soft
So we don’t scare the fish away.

And then we waited.
Just the creak of the dock bouncing
in time with the water
moving all afternoon
bobbing us up and down.

Sometimes our toes would touch
splayed off the dock
and I would recite this little piggy went to market
— but just in my head because
we had to be silent soft, waiting for the fish.

She taught me to reel in, quickly,
but with no panic, no surprise,
knowing there would be only sunfish suspended from the hook
little orange sunshines in our hands
on the dock every summer afternoon.

And she taught me to unhinge the mouth
to pull the mouth slowly from its worm feast
to toss it gently back into the water and watch it,
still hungry,
swim away.

IMAGE: “Fishing” by Childe Hassam (1896).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “In the Afternoon, She Smelled Like Earth,” is a memory poem. My teacher in this piece, an older aunt, recently passed away, evoking memories of long ago times we had shared together. We spent many hours, quiet, fishing off the dock in Irish Hills, Michigan. So many lessons every afternoon. She taught me patience, tenderness, stillness, and the art of letting go.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Marianne Peel taught English at middle and high school for 32 years. She is now retired, doing Field Instructor work for Michigan State University. She recently won first prize for poetry in the Spring 2016 Edition of the Gadfly Literary Magazine. She also won the Pete Edmonds Poetry Prize. In addition, Marianne has been published in Encodings: A Feminist Literary Journal; Write to Heal; Writing for Our Lives: Our Bodies—Hurts, Hungers, Healing; Mother Voices; Metropolitan Woman Magazine; and Ophelia’s Mom. Marianne also received Fulbright-Hays Awards to Nepal and Turkey. Marianne was selected by poet Marge Piercy for her Juried Intensive Poetry workshop in June 2016. She is a flute-playing vocalist who is raising four daughters. She shares her life with her partner Scott, whom she met in Istanbul while studying in Turkey.