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 menace,
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 angry foul bumper stickers.
But when some mindless snob on autopilot
with cutters on his flashy yachts’ prop
tears through a line of pots all the day’s money’s gone
What’s Saint Joseph to do then
you have to keep asking.
Oh, they’re not paying what they used to, 3 bucks a pound,
not worth it sometimes when they’re 10 bucks afterward.
Every day, 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 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.