The Barracuda

What was that fish we came on, at the last,
snorkeling above the reefs off Water Isle?
Suddenly in my field of view, it flashed
like sunlight off a plane’s windshield a mile

or so away, intense enough to burn
the surface of my retina, but brief,
too brief to wreak much damage. With a turn
and twist, it disappeared behind the reef

to feed on lichen, leaving me to wonder
if I had just imagined it, or if,
a moment later, it might drag me under.
I flapped to signal you, but you were stiff:

Had you not seen it, too preoccupied
by angelfish that poked around the coral
to glimpse, beyond their blue, its silver glide
whose progress like a story without a moral

might suffer us its ending only once—
a simple, painful death, one thrashing bite
separating us for good? My hunch,
admittedly unproven in light

of our no longer traveling together,
is that it was a barracuda, yet
because it sensed the danger in the weather
it fled, not like a sinner from regret

nor even less like listeners from a reading
where every poem rambles on or rhymes,
but like a driver ticketed for speeding
leaving the scene of once and future crimes

who knows from past experience it’s wise
to slide out quietly, then to withdraw.
If only we had come to recognize
the barracuda neither of us saw.

John Gery
from his book Enemies of Leisure
Storyline Press, 1995

used with permission of the poet

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About John Gery

John Gery has a M.A. in English from Stanford and has been a professor at the University of New Orleans since 1979. He has written 8 books of poetry to date. His collection of poems, The Enemies of Leisure, received a Critic's Choice Award from the San Francisco Review of Books and was named a Best Book of 1995 in poetry by Publisher's Weekly.

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