I’m hauling the boat I just bought last summer
behind my little pickup truck down Highway 22,
my wife and kids behind me in her van,
when I turn off onto a muddy gravel road
leading to a boat launch on the Tickfaw River.
Since my father never taught me how to drive a boat
much less launch one into a body of water,
its dark embrace enveloping that smooth hull
as if it’s falling into a pile of cool bedsheets,
I have to rely on what here in Louisiana
would be considered simple common sense
though this is not so simple or common at all to me.
My foot quivers on the clutch as I back up
to where the gravel road ends at a concrete ramp
over which two people can back their trailers in at once
side-by-side, and then ease their boats into the river.
I pull the parking brake once my trailer’s submerged,
get out of my truck and walk knee-deep into the oily water.
Then I turn the winch until the boat is free
and I can pull it by its soaking hawser
to one of the pilings at the edge of the dock.
You see, I was born and raised here,
out in the country up around Folsom
if you want to get specific about it,
but I missed out on some of the best parts
since my dad was always too drunk
or too busy or just too damned angry
to show me how to do these things himself:
like boating, fishing, how to skin a deer.
I tie the boat off so I can park my truck
and meet my family in the weeded lot,
grab the life jackets and help drag the ice chest
which is packed with sandwiches my wife made,
chips, and a tiny passel of Cokes and beers.
And here I am trying to make up for my past
by showing my kids these things
that I don’t even really know myself
and I wonder if my dad would be proud of me
for taking my family out on the water
like he always talked about doing, but never did.
We climb in the boat and head toward the Blood River,
the wind blowing my kids’ hair back as we speed up
and the channel widens, spooling out before us
before it splits and curves into a nice shaded spot
where we drop the anchor and jump into the water:
the river’s warm with patches of cold
that wrap around your legs and chest
and every now and then you can feel a fish glide by.
This is new to all of us, but I swear
it’s as though we’ve done it a thousand times—
since I was a kid myself.
David Armand was born and raised in Louisiana. He currently teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he also serves as associate editor for Louisiana Literature Press. He has published three novels, a poetry chapbook, and a memoir. David lives with his wife and two children, and is working on his sixth book.