At last we have caught our quota of halibut and black cod, and I am free once more. We had another great adventure out there, but I’ve seen enough of heaving waves and slimy fish for a while. Although I didn’t have great deal of time to sketch or paint over the summer, I found time on long wheel watches to put words together in remembrance of things that I saw and felt.
Blood Mother Ocean
The high cliffs of Nakchamik crumble rusty red and purple
down into the wide grey sea.
Striped and streaked with paler white
like giant marbled flanks cut from the earth’s flesh.
We hunt our prey with hooks.
The boat’s awash in blood, slime, bile, and digestive juices,
Eggs and sperm of frantic fishes mad to live.
An octopus appears in the checker
Red blooming, alien intelligence unfurling across the aluminium.
And Sam with the gaff behind it, takes its life away
It will make good bait.
Cod guts gashed open reveal smaller fish and their own organs,
Tiny crabs and shrimp shells half-dissolved,
Worms writhing through it all.
We go on, gnawing our way through the world,
This world full of blood and shit and parasites and predators.
Green hills on the island echo far sweet memories of a different life.
But we are hunting still
And the red jewel of a halibut heart is my elixir of strength
The rich taste of iron life-force
Sends another pulse born of iron rocks and salty sea
Swirling into my own.
Half an Hour
“This place can kill you in a heartbeat if you get lackadaisical about shit”
Going through Unalga pass with Greg
With half an hour we slip through
Just in time.
The rusting hulk of a crabber on the rocks
Is a testament to the forces at work here.
Greg tells me of deck-loading his little Bay boat with giant halibut
And barely escaping a ten-foot wall of water in the pass.
The surging pull of the moon was
“Like the fucking Death Star up there”
Half an hour too late that time.
So much wisdom and experience
Of the dangerous world
Are stored up in this greying man.
Now a hard-driven captain and vessel owner
Snapping back at the scams that gnaw at
His narrow profit margins.
He gets his own.
Peace and anger roll in waves across our minds;
Here we have struggled with demons since the onset of time.
War never will be ended once and for all across the globe
For day by day each man must make himself at peace.
The baboon survivor of ages past still snarls in reaction
To every perceived infringement of territory
While the better angels of our nature look on in 20/20 hindsight
In every place, in every age, humans have hoped to save their world
From the ravages of themselves.
May we all find the patience to forgive our neighbours
Day after day until the end of our lives.
Pausing in our salty labours
We gaze up out of the bait shed
At clouds emblazoned like holy scripture
Across the blue vault of heaven.
From far green mountains ringing round the bay
Wafts a freshly blooming fragrance
Washing away the stench of halibut blood and livers
For a moment.
We gulp down lungfuls of this airy elixir:
The sweet ethereal promise of going home some day.
Sunlight breaks through like a revelation
And every atom of our floating world seems forged anew
As I shovel a thousand colors of starfish
Back into the sea.
We saw a sperm whale swim underneath our boat
Passing just below the bow
And our hearts raced with fear and wonder
To see that giant silent shadow in the sea.
After dreaming of hot city streets
Riding a bike over broken asphalt among dogs and children
At home on woodland paths,
I get up to pee
And slowly awaken to the fact that I am at sea
On a fishing vessel
Encapsulated in sea-going machinery,
Rolling about on the waves.
No one told me life would be so strange.
In Sand Point
A flocking fleet of fishermen
Settles in to wait out the storm.
Drinking beer and coffee
As they rest their clawlike hands on galley tables,
Comparing notes, critiquing gear,
Sharing future fears and schemes and strategies.
These tough little boats packed with hooks,
Sharpened to maximum efficiency,
Evolved through adversity,
These are the pointed canines of humanity
Feeding the hunger of wealthy Japanese and Americans
For thick succulent black cod and halibut flanks
This cannery town ruled by Trident Corporation
Is the grinding jaws of our civilization.
O Seabirds, how you must rejoice
At the sight of our stout vessel
Plowing the wide grey seas.
Can you tell the longliner by its neon flags and buoys?
Can you smell the salted herring before we set our first string?
At least we are not so lonesome at sea,
Crowded by such motley flocks:
The proud sabre-winged albatrosses,
The fulmars in their nattering multitudes.
Here is a feast for all:
Free lunch and dinner and breakfast
Fresh entrails and fish carcasses of every description
And most coveted of all,
The golden oily gobbets of livers
For which you crowd in quarrelling and peck each other about the head.
O feathered hordes
And be sated.