— for Jim and Chuck

My fly line unspools across the water like a long sentence
whose final punctuation is a grizzly hackle tied by a friend.

He clamped his fly vise to the branch of a fallen pine
right after we arrived by mule train at this Montana river.

Bent over the dead branch, he wove silk and bucktail into
this imaginary insect that drifts like a stone fly on the current.

I snap the line out again, and this time a cutthroat trout
dives with my fly down into a deep emerald eddy.

The rod comes alive in my hand, and that right there is
the dopamine jolt I came all this way to feel, the narcotic

spark I haven’t known since the day I put the bottle down.
That’s how survival wired us for this great and brutal craving.

The other two anglers and I toss our gutted fish in flour,
then cook them over a flame like those that have always burned

beside this river and continue to scour these mountains.
Pink fireweed flowers all around the charred trees.

Mayflies couple in the air above us, while swirling night-
hawks snatch them out of the darkening sky.

Gin-clear is how fishermen describe the tributaries
that flow into the Flathead River and send native trout
gliding through the turbulent boils of narrow gorges.

A large buck in full velvet leaps across a small feeder creek.
Preening mergansers cock their heads as I wade the shallows.
After days on the river, time starts to seem an urban artifact.

I now think only about my fly drifting on the current
and the trout that might rise to take it. Here I can let my mind
bathe freely in absolute attention, this strange new chance

to reinhabit my life. I watch another angler casting
beautiful loops downstream, and I wonder if all our days
might be conducted with such artistry, precision, and care.

When the older fishermen retire to their tents, I stay up
and watch shooting stars arc just above pine silhouettes.

My desires for wilderness and clarity coalesce here
in this million-acre backland where only animal energy —

the mules’ and mine — carried us this deep into
the dark. Grizzlies are feeding at higher altitudes

while Ursa Major lumbers even farther overhead.
The entire night sky reaches down like a splattered dome,

and at its apogee stands Gemini, my own duplicitous sign.
One star is the dead twin I’m trying to cut loose;

the other is another self I might yet find the courage to become.
Lying is the first inclination of both anglers and drunks.

One wants a better story, and the other wants to be left alone
with the only friend who understands their insatiable thirst.

A year ago my hands shook so badly I could barely thread
my fly. This year I wrestled a bull trout to the riverbank.