food and the sea.

29 July 2013 § Leave a comment

On the water my daily calorie count reached five digits, and only once I mistook and tallied them. It was a bad move because Emily’s eating disorder still haunted me; some days on land I’d eat only carrots, celery, and mustard and weigh myself every morning after I’d pissed and shit and before I drank any water. At lunch I’d tell my friends I’d already eaten, even when we’d made plans prior. Instead I ate alone, sadly and obsessively, pinched the skin on my stomach to decide how much I would eat that day.

These things don’t fly on fishing boats. Not when you burn more than you eat no matter how many brownies, handfuls of trail mix, snickers, or servings of mystery curry and rice you wolf down. Commercial fishing is a dietician’s nightmare; an eating disorder’s daydream. Many fishermen arrive to the boatyard plump; by season’s end our arms are sinewy and strong, our stomachs hard as bin covers. “It’s the once-a-year workout plan,” said Max this summer. As long as the fish show up.

When they do, and we’re enter that blurry stretch of time called peak, when fifteen minutes of sleep feels like hours, and your hands look and feel like lobster claws, brushing and flossing become privileges. You’re not sure how long it’s been but your sandpaper teeth say it’s been ten meals too long, like yesterday, which in Bristol Bay time is last month.

Self-care falls by the wayside, to say the least. Lucky for me, so does self-destruction. If I require a certain amount of animosity to get through my day, which sometimes is the case, it may arrive in the form of a screaming skipper, an insolent crewmate, or 65 knot winds and enough fish to feed Detroit’s hungry children for weeks. The sea provides. more than I can ask for, or give myself. So the day I ate 14,600 calories, then felt guilty and refused to think of her (and therefore did so constantly), instead of hating my consumption I thanked it. Before each bowl of granola or curry, candy bar, piece of jerky or dried mango from the sugar shack, even before that abominable Progresso clam chowder, I closed my eyes and prayed until I was made of gratitude. My adopted disorder a disowned, petulant child who knows well that I haven’t weighed in morningwise in two years quieted as we drifted up and down Ship’s Channel this summer.

By the time July hit, I’d fished two full seasons in two months, and everything inside me was done. Tired and Finished. Tolerant and smart enough to endure the bullshit: “Straight to bed with you,” said the skipper, “you make money, and you sleep.” His implications obvious: Don’t you dare write in your little book, Sean, said his sharp baby blue eyes, you’ll be back on deck before you have a chance to dream.

This is my sleep, mu’fugga. Two sentences later, handwriting the shape of snores and shredded nets, I feel asleep pen in hand.


home pack

12 July 2013 § Leave a comment

I need you to be strong, baby.
I need your smile so that I can hold up
the whole universe when you call. And
I need you to know that my goodbyes 
translate to ‘until next time’ in every language
spoken near the sea, mountains, and sky.


10 July 2013 § 3 Comments

The first time _ saw the ocean was Huntington Beach, LA, 1995.
Eight years old, and not yet learned in how to contain excitement,
ran out to embrace it.

Swallowed so much salt water,
nearly drowned.

Hopped back to the high desert
started climbing mountains
so the sea wouldn’t call like that again.

Nineteen years later,
commercial fisherman
for five years,
I realize that
the sea was but a wound
that wanted to heal.

shithouse poetry

10 July 2013 § Leave a comment

suspicious sun, an emerald sea -we observers focus on wind, and sail.
what becomes of tides where no waves collide?
what composes human folly, then,
if we decide that love will stumble
before it falls on us?


who watched in agony the
cliffside chaos, wind caught
chorus, wild music ringing?
sunset’s but some heaven
leasing demons through
a fiery gate, a needle threaded.

the boys are back on deck

10 July 2013 § Leave a comment

I have mere hours before returning to the sea. Our 32′ drift gillnetter, the spectacle they call the Okuma, waits patiently in the Dillingham harbor, for her third departure since April, when we arrived to fish herring in Togiak.

A week ago, my crewmate lost his pinky. ‘I think I fucked up,’ he said. ‘I lost a finger.’

‘Where’d it go!?’ I said, thinking he might be kidding. But he made direct eye contact with me, a scarce event, and he spun in a circle, in shock. His gloves hid the gore for moments after. The skipper yelled to me, keep picking! get the net on board! As he and his wife rummaged through the first aid kit, Pinky hit the hydraulic valve to bring the net up.

You warrior, I said. Go sit down. Take care of that shit.

More yelling from the skipper.

We roundhauled the net aboard, fish and all, and took off for the hospital. We had to save his finger, not a glob of mush at the bottom of a glove. The tides were right to get him to Ekuk quickly, where a setnetter flew him to Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham. When my skipper called the hospital to see how Pinky was doing, they patched him through to their surgery patient.

‘No, really,’ said Pinky, ‘the doctor is pulling the bone out right now with – wait, what’s that tool called? – something or other. I can’t feel a thing.’

Maybe I shouldn’t have called him before the fishing season. We didn’t get along from the start. I tried to get along with him, and all that came up was my attitude. Pinky was my mirror, a version of myself whom I’d despised for so much of my life, and I disrespected him time and time again. My condescending tone told him what he needed to know about me, and my arrogant behavior in Togiak as it concerned my friendship with the girl he was crushing on was, according to unwritten rules I was not them aware of, completely unacceptable. It placed a rift between us that would make our three months together feel like an eternity.

Before we laid out that set in Flounder’s Flats, he said to me, If only we could go back to town for a couple of days and recharge. His case of red ass spread faster than mine, and it brought him back to town the moment he felt ready. Perhaps the price was too high. We were just starting to get along, to quiz each other on movie quotes and share travel stories, most of which included beautiful women and exotic locations – as if that was why we traveled, ha! – and the end of the season was in sight. It was July second already, and we’d be sipping mai thais on the beach by the 20th, wads of cash crinkled in our pockets. The early salmon run had worked only in our favor, what with catching 28,000 pounds of fish in 65 knot winds on the west line. Over and over.

There’s only so much time now. Pinky’s replacements lasted a week, their grace and chemistry on the deck a miracle that made the days slide my like a slippery fish on the bloody aluminum. Inspiration from a fellow writer, Tim Clemen. ‘You know, you should have backed off in Togiak, played the wingman. You know that, right? Lay down the Cool, he told me.

I knew he was right, just like he was right when he said do what you love. If you want to write, he said, then write, and do nothing else. You’ll succeed, I guarantee it. Five years in audio engineering, five years fishing. Give writing five years of your energy, and you’ll get here, he said, looking around the spectacle they call the Okuma. It doesn’t get better, until you’re in the wheelhouse running the show. Out here, we’re boys, and always will be.

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