Fishermen by Joe Mills


Joe Mills

“Time is a river in which I go a fishing”
—Henry David Thoreau
In the downtown center of Tianjin,
among the skyscrapers and tour boats,
old men cast lines into the river
then sit on cushions, or makeshift chairs.
Around them, people walk, picnic, nap,
do forms, mind children, take selfies.
Throughout the day, the sun shifts
light and shadows across the water
as the fishermen watch and wait,
eating, exchanging cigarettes,
adjusting their poles and nets.
At dusk, they pack what they have
onto their bikes and mopeds,
and they go wherever it is men go
when they aren’t sitting by a river.
Much about China is unfamiliar to me,
the language, food, signs, and traffic,
but not these men. I grew up with them.
Decades ago, in the American Midwest,
they were there on docks and river banks,
next to holes they had augured in the ice,
smoking, drinking, and telling stories
as the world around them shifted,
trees becoming houses becoming towers,
one century flowing into another.

About the Author

A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joe Mills has published six collections of poetry, most recently Exit, Pursued by a Bear.