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While You Were Sleeping

To witness mindfully is to grieve for what has been lost.

-Freeman House

By August 15th, everyone knows the fish
aren’t coming. Your skipper buys
a pickup truck, starts drinking
and driving. The crew joins him.
You wear large hats, put the dogs in between you,
drive to the neighboring fishing village. You make up
some silly reason for this ritual, perhaps luck,
but you all know it’s better
than staring at an empty ocean.
At the first mile marker, you snap
your bottle caps out the window,
raise your beers in a symbolic toast
and look straight ahead.
You know it’s the end, the first end.
You joke about working at McDonalds
but lay awake at night staring out the focsle
hatch thinking of who you might call
for a construction job over the winter
or maybe another fishery. You calculate
how much money you’d make in three months of trawling,
then imagine leaving Seattle the day after Christmas,
New Year’s Eve puking out the wheelhouse window
somewhere in of the Gulf of Alaska encased
in darkness. You think about crossing
icy decks and balancing on your knees to bleed fish.
This image makes you sick to your stomach
turning on your side you think:
maybe the fish will hit tomorrow.
Trying to fall asleep you imagine
telling this story five years from now.
A late run of Sockeye, a jump in the price
of Chums, your end of the season dinner
filled with good wine and laughter.
Your optimism swells enough
to let you sleep. What you can’t imagine
is five years from now
you’ll be painting yachts and sailboats
in a dusty boatyard in the lower forty-eight.
You don’t know this yet, you’re still sleeping
to the sound of a refrigeration system chilling water
for fish you won’t catch. What you don’t know
is that the fish will come back, next season,
but no one will want them. You still believe
a low return will bring up the price
next year, like in high school economics?
it will all balance out in the end.
But you can’t imagine the end.
An eight hour work day, a paycheck every two-weeks,
shorts, flip-flops, sitting in traffic watching the heat
rise from blacktop. You’ll be standing
around a barbeque, someone will joke
about a town full of fishing refugees. You’ll notice
the man next to you leaning slightly forward,
his feet too far apart, braced for the swell.
You can’t imagine sitting at a desk
in August, reading books about salmon,
trying to learn the scientific terms
for what they do. You’ll catch yourself
studying the pictures, trying to name the river,
trying to find a rock you once rested on.
You’ll stare so long you’ll start to smell
the rotting carcasses. But for now,
I watch you sleeping.
In another hour, you’ll wake
and pull anchor.

 

 

Advice to Female Deckhands

You will be the cook.
In addition to wheel watches, working
on deck, unloading fish, fueling up,
filling fresh water, mending nets,
grocery shopping whenever you come to town,
you also will prepare three meals a day
and two hearty snacks to go with coffee.
You must keep the kettle on the stove full
and the juice jug and two gallons of milk in the fridge.

You will learn to slice vegetables, prepare a marinade,
cook pasta and fillet a salmon
in twenty minute intervals
while the net is out. You will learn
to ignore the other crew members sitting
at the galley table reading. You must know
how to create a corral in rough weather,
so pots of soup don’t end up dripping
down the firewall behind the stove. You will need
bungie cords to keep the cast iron skillet from sliding.
These cords melt if they touch the stove top.
Keep a squeeze container of Aloe Vera gel
under the galley sink for the burns
on your hands and forearms.

The stove will blow out on windy days
when you’re exhausted,
your skin stinging with jelly fish.
The crew will say they’re not hungry on these days
but when you slide behind the Cape, it will be flat
calm and all of you will be starving. Before relighting the stove
determine how much diesel has built up.
If it’s more than an inch deep,
turn off the fuel source
by flipping a breaker in the engine room.
You don’t have time for ear protection. Get down there
and back before someone hollers for you on deck.
Passing the engine, watch the straps on your raingear,
your ponytail, where you put your hands.

When cooking, remember all odors from the galley
drift directly into the wheelhouse. Fish sauce
smells like dirty tennis shoes. Once she smells this,
your skipper’s daughter will refuse to eat anything
she suspects has fish sauce. As a woman and cook
you will be expected to have a special bond with the skipper’s daughter
and you will. Have art supplies in a shoe box in the galley,
a drawing tablet under a cushion, collect starfish,
Decorator crab, and Spiny Lump Suckers in a deck bucket.
Teach her what you know can kill her. When she cries
put your arm around her, kiss her
on the top of the head and let her cry.
Allow her to use your cell phone to call friends
in exchange for making salads, pots of coffee,
washing lunch dishes, carrying groceries to the boat.
Develop sign language for communicating
when she stands in the galley door
peering out at you on deck.

This isn’t what I intended.
I set out to give you advice for taking care
of yourself, now it’s about taking care of a girl
you’re related to by circumstance.
This is exactly what will happen.
You’ll notice a hum
more penetrating than the engine.

 

 

What This Woman Wants

I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.


-Kim Addonizio

Keep your red dress and spiky
bad girl shoes. Give me a steel boat
with water-tight doors,
double-paned windows,
an anchor that’ll hold
in an eighty knot blow. Better yet,
turn me into this boat. Paint my hull black
so when I pull into the harbor at night,
people strain to see
the source of my hum.
Don’t bother with tie-up lines;
this boat rises from the water, levitates,
cruises the streets.
This boat doesn’t sleep.
My radar turns, catches the eye
of a boy smoking pot
in front of a television
while his parents argue upstairs.
He hoists himself on board,
tosses his coat in an empty bunk.
A girl counts the days on her calendar,
counts again, hopes for blood,
hopes her boyfriend will call,
hopes he won’t arrive drunk
outside her window. My running lights
move across her bedroom wall. She jumps,
lands on my back deck. The old man wakes.
The grandchildren have tired of his stories,
his daughter still cringes
from the whiskey on his breath.
He wishes his memory would fail.
Out the window, he notices stars
reflected on my black steel,
leaves his walker behind.
The last bar closes. A dancer walks to her car.
Her ex-boyfriend waits, crunches across gravel.
She shakes her purse searching for keys.
My bow nudges this scene to a close.
He picks gravel from his palms. The others
lift her aboard. By dawn, my deck is crowded.
There is a long splash as my hull
dips back into the harbor. We slip out
around the breakwater,
set course into the ocean swell.
In my galley, eggs break
into a mixing bowl, olive oil
heats on cast iron,
someone slices bread for toast.

 

 

 

In the Bedroom

…the signals we give?yes or no, or maybe?
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

-William Stafford

Evening light saturates them.
Shadows eclipse his eyes, mouth. She wants
to hear the story of him crying
over a crow he shot when he was thirteen
walking with friends along a dirt
road. She wants to hear how the bird
fell into a ditch, a ditch filled
with forget-me-nots and yellow
buttercups. She wants to hear how
it hopped in circles, unable to control
its direction. How one of the boys kicked it,
reversing the circles, sending it further
into the ditch. How finally, exhausted,
the bird fell forward gulping air
and ditch water. When it quit moving
the other boys laughed, hard,
harder until one boy kicked it again
onto the dirt road where it landed on its back.
The spongy black pads on its feet gripped air,
claws curled into themselves.
This is when her lover remembers
sobbing out of control,
one of the boys punching him
from behind, between his shoulder blades,
knocking him to his knees,
calling him Wuss, Mama’s boy.
The other boys laughing,
walking away. She wants this story,
the silence they sit in after he tells it. She wants
to imagine her lover punched by a bully,
crying. She wants to kiss the soft skin
on his neck. She wants to see him shaking,
watching his feet, walking home alone.

 


Another Job

I’m being paid by the hour
to erase acts of love. Names,
hearts, a peace sign, all carved
into the wooden benches in the top
cabin of a passenger ferry built
while my family was still mining
gold in Alaska. I exaggerate.
I know that love is an excuse
for a variety of reckless acts.
What I’m filling with blue,
quick-hardening, surfacing compound
are displays of two people engulfed
by that inexplicable force
that knots their fingers together,
entwines their bodies, presses them
into the corner of a wooden bench
on an old boat crossing
Sinclair Inlet. Maybe they have jobs
at the Navy Yard next to where the ferry docks,
or maybe their parents did. Maybe they’re going
to hang out in front of the record store
that pumps loud music and incense,
onto a downtown street where no one will complain
because all the businesses have moved to the mall
ten miles north of here. The ferry runs on a short crew
these days which allowed time for the young lovers
to carve their declarations in the fifteen minute crossing.
Perhaps it was one boy working alone, skipping classes
at Bremerton High. Maybe he rode all morning,
his knife snapping shut when he heard a fellow passenger
coming up the stairs. No one wanted to interrupt him
in his oversized black coat and headphones
gazing out the window,
not hurting himself or anyone else.
Or maybe he carved among
fellow riders on a full boat when
there were still jobs downtown. Someone thought
he should be stopped. I LOVE YOU DARLA
defaces a boat of this age but no one said a word.
Occasionally they caught a glance of his knife,
witnessed a few curls of wood on the floor. Maybe they knew
whose kid he was, knew he’d gotten Darla pregnant,
knew she was in a friend’s basement nervously smoking cigarettes.
Or perhaps a middle aged man watched with envy
as the curls of wood accumulated, wishing
the inexplicable force would send him running,
jumping off the boat at the last possible second,
rushing back to the warm bed,
back to the arms of someone who almost bores him. Or maybe
he runs to the house of his children’s mother,
stands in the front yard yelling: “I want
the inexplicable force back. I want to believe
we’ll never be angry, wrong, get caught or go to work
everyday like everyone else.” She pauses from vacuuming,
looks out the window, feels warmth in her chest,
a flush to her face, which she will later attribute
to the fact that he was late with child support.

 

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