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The old red pump at the Texaco
by the river is out of gas. It’s a relic,
crossbred with a rusty mailbox.

Its heaven is a pier at the end of a
bridge, floating in a sky haunted
by echos and black exhaust.

The roar of revving motors
and the stench of burning tires
live on in cracked macadam.

No fishermen come now to fill
their rusting cans before they go
night-fishing off that rotting pier.

My father told tales of boyhood
fishing, barefoot in the Salke-Hatchie
Swamp with his coon-dog. He poled

his old skiff along star-filled creeks,
then fried his catfish in a cast-iron
skillet beside the railroad tracks,

hoping to sell to travelers for a handful
of pocket money. When a child, I went
to Carolina, sat on a twilight dock and

pushed live worms onto a safety-pin.
I threw back what I caught. But I knew
the story of the Swamp, and even now

I smell that fish-fry, its rancid scent
lingering still in the humid night air
by the deserted tracks along the river.


Penny Harter lives in the South Jersey shore area and loves being a half-hour from the ocean on country roads. She and her husband, William J. (Bill) Higginson, lived for eleven years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, returning to New Jersey in 2003. After Bill’s death in 2008, she moved from north to south Jersey to be near her daughter and family. Retired from teaching high school English and working as a poet-in-the-schools, these days Penny is enjoying time with family, writing poems—including Japanese-related genres such as haiku and haibun—and some travel. She is also downsizing, having reached that age where she knows she has accumulated too much! Her most recent victory was clearing out decades of paper from two huge, two-drawer, metal file cabinets.

© 2022, Penny Harter

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