Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘Piking’: a poem by William Thompson



The wind plays a low note
through the one bar gate onto the bridleway.
I tick the code into the lock. It clicks open.

Once our car has passed, the gate fastens
like a set of chimes. Back in the car,
it’s a short, choppy drive up to the copse.

Then we’re outside, booting up,
putting on layers, lifting the tackle box
and picnic bag, threading the rods

back through the ribcage of the car.
Now, we’re two packhorses
under the swaying trees that lead up to the lake.

The water has an Arthurian stillness.


My dad lays a trip wire
from the reel, along the rod, then out
into the water and back over the bite alarm.

Under the glassy surface
the dead bait sinks.
We settle in to watch and wait.

Out in the centre, wind concertinas water
into brilliant shards. Somewhere
behind the trees, a far-off train passes.

Now, two swans pedalo
from bank to bank. We start to relax.
As we chat, the lake top shatters and reforms

into a tinted skylight we can’t see beyond.


The line could be the water’s seam:
the way the lake looks now – like two sheets
of fluttering, mirrored fabric.

But then, the float snags
and everything unravels.
My dad is on his feet and somewhere

in the mystery
of the lake’s soundless underworld
a pike runs

with the dead bait in its teeth.
My dad crouches, waits a second more,
then strikes.

The rod bends with the smooth arc of a bow.


With each turn of the reel
the line is stiff, the rod solid
as though he’s braced against the lake itself.

‘Keep the net low!’
Then, the pike’s sleek black presence
appears, just beneath the surface.

Another second, a sudden thrash
and he’s half out: huge, lithe, bullying at the line.
‘Net low! Low! In the water!’

One more second and then I feel his strength,
his weight, the net pole bend.
He’s borne into a bafflement of wind and light;

a silver, livid sword – writhing into green.


My dad dons padded gloves and holds him up.
‘My God, the size of him!’
I laugh and fumble for my phone.

‘How long have we got?’
‘Oh, a few minutes at least.’
There’s a voyeuristic thrill

as he flexes, first with anger
then with fear. I feel a pang of guilt
and realise

that, all this time, the forceps, the gag, the clamps
have been waiting on the bank
like a surgeon’s instruments.

He starts to go still. ‘Right, let’s get him unhooked.’


Everything’s fine. The way my dad locks him
between his legs, asks for the forceps,
works the gag between his jaws

and makes the mouth yawn wide
exposing rows of teeth
pink and jagged like rock salt.

Still, everything’s fine.
But then we lift away the mashed dead bait
and peer into the slippery, vented cavern

of the pike’s insides. By now,
I’m lying on my side and Dad’s leaning over
– a head-bowed paramedic keeping panic

from his voice. ‘Yup. Christ. He’s deep-hooked.’


Silence except for a faint, wet sucking sound
and my dad’s anxious grunts
as he thrusts his hand into the gullet

and twists. ‘It won’t come out.’
He withdraws his hand. I grip the forceps
and start tugging;

the hook’s deep in a rubbery knot of entrail
like an umbilical cord.
Dad tries again but it’s no good.

He looks at me and shakes his head. ‘Scissors.’
I’m up and running, then on my knees.
I swing my arm so that my glove thuds on the floor,

then rip the zip around the tackle box.


The next day, after he dropped me at the station
my dad went back.
He skirted the lake, keeping his eyes peeled

for the fin-up, off-white underbelly
of a dead pike dumped like a sandbag
in the shallows. As the countryside raced by

I thought about my dad
and his words as we drove away,
‘I’m glad you were there with me.’

And then of how the pike was almost still
as we eased it back into the water,
how as we watched, it moved off slowly

drifting like a slain king in his burial shroud.