Crossing the Bar by Kent Bowker


Last Catch of the Day – 2012 by Ian Factor (b. 1969)

Crossing the Bar

Crossing the bar again
In the slosh and tumble of waves, around ledges,
at the favored lobster spots close to shore, the white working boat
maneuvers about rocks, gear shift growling,
runs down on pots, the men scooping them up,
hauling traps aboard, pulling the writhing bugs out, checking length
sometimes tossing most of them back in
thinking it's time to shift the pots further offshore.
It seems the hold is never quite full,
when they turn the helm to home.

It’s not all work, for there is a time
for awe and wonder in going
to and fro, in foggy uncertainty, or clear air
when the horizon is crisp and stark,
or when clouds boil, flowering in blue sky,
or when the black of a coming storm menaces,
or in the calm of sunrise, waters flat as can be,
never the same from day to day,

but same never-the-less.
You’re on your own out there.

They do not visit this place
as the yachtsmen do, to pleasure the day,
they live this world, all of it, its peace and hell alike.

Then back home again and out on the town
into dazzling lights, dark bars, a drink
having fun with women
punk rock songs and randy jokes.

Saint Joseph certainly must be there,
with faith’s wafer and wine certainty and protection
warding off threat of wave and rock
in the heave and thrust of swells
uneven footing, a dangerous winch cable
screaming on its spool.

There is a muscle taut energy
in this small 35 foot lobster boat

     heir to the fast Grand Bank fishing schooners, 
     proud large trawlers, the great hauls.

These rock crawling scavengers 
are all that’s left to harvest now,

     bend the muscles to.

It’s traps now, was nets then, always the haul, 
the heft of the prey on the deck 
in the heave and rolling wave of the sea 
The big thing to think about 
what many of us do not 
is who and where we are in this world. 
So few know, but those whose working rhythm 
is embedded in it, do. 

A Saint Joseph medallion dangles from the rear view mirror 
of their pickup loaded with traps and pots 
and its ‘screw you’ bumper stickers. But when some ignorant asshole on autopilot 
with cutters on his flashy yachts’ prop tears through a line of pots 
all the days moneys gone

     What’s Saint Joseph to do then 
     you have to keep asking.'

          Oh, they’re not paying what they used to, 3 buck a pound, 
          not worth it sometimes when they’re 10 bucks afterward.

Everyday, passing by the Dog Bar, offloading the stuff, 
tired, returning to the slip, tie up, disembark 
and, bone hope weary, might take to drink again. 

In the coherence of this life,
     (the faith and ceremonies, a cardinal’s blessing
          once a year doesn’t do much)
     no matter how small it seems
          faith punctuates the daily chores

but it’s the rhythm of the lobsterman’s life 
out and back again, bait and reap 
that sustains as it does for all working men, 
the doing of it.

Kent Bowker

Kent Bowker




Kent Bowker
  started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.

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