In those hours before sunrise,
while the water is still new, my father
and I walk down to the pilings
to dip our lines in the murky Severn.
We would bait our hooks with grass shrimp
from the corner store, or dangle old meat
from a string, to lure out the crabs,
who would scuttle across that weathered dock,
then vanish between missing planks.
My family noticed how poor
my catch was, how few fish would take the shrimp,
but they never noticed the hooks,
unbaited, lying by the tackle box,
a lead weight hanging from my line.
The sodium twilight of the city,
so far from my mud-soaked river,
did not leave shells for hermit crabs to tend.
I built my burrow in bottles
Of sand and pressed seaweed, finding wildness
Wherever wilderness survived.
In small fragments of forest pushing out
through the concrete, winding trails where
old copper mines once stood, broken
railway bridges, long abandoned, birdsongs
that cut through the light rail’s rumble.
The tide would rise and fall on these islands,
Adrift in a sea without stars.
But those islands were my anchor. It held.
They hover, motionless in the water.
Each one, a tiny, perfect, mystery,
So seemingly unfit for survival.
Weightless and delicate, syngnathidae.
Together, in their loves’ embrace,
the males bear the burden of birth.
Unspoken edicts, assumed truths,
are theirs to abide or ignore.
As they should, for a fish
that flaunts its unfishness
shamelessly, with grasping
tails and forsaken scales.
These were my tanks
to feed, to clean,
my steeds, my charge,
my damp command.
I am falling.
I am the weight
at the end of my line.
I feel it,
of a rope, going taught.
transferred from my body
to a bolt
buried among the stones.
the last link
and the earth,
to call me home,
as if she never
wanted me to leave.
Here is a man at sea,
struggling to find his way
across a gulf
The gear rises
But, as the winch tightens,
a wave catches. The stern
Out and down.
Out and down.
the corer takes him in the chest,
throws him across the deck,
and comes to rest
above crushed bones.
The mud is gold
the cracked ribs, shattered spine,
a question that will never stand.
He lifts her, carries her
dulling the pain
with whiskey, willpower
Until, at last,
the earth again
rises up to meet him.
And, with welcoming arms,
he greets the fall,
like an old friend.
She never questioned my scars,
the old twisted knots from forgotten climbs
or the fresh welts, still pallid,
We scurry across the beach
sifting sand as we duck between the rocks.
Two among the multitude,
shedding our injuries,
in discarded shells.
She is so wide and deep and unyielding
that even the strongest of us must fall
to our knees before the oncoming tide
and then cling to the rocks as she recedes.
But, somewhere in this maelstrom, an island
emerges from the surf.