Archive for November 2009

Tracking the Storm

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Channel 5 Weather Team is giddy in the studio
with solemn warnings, predictions and precautions
highlighted by graphics—blue waves for water, yellow
flashlights, red pluses on batteries—primary colors for

their target audience of shut-ins and NON-ESSENTIAL
PERSONNEL, we viewers without plows, the unproductive
non-responders, at-home posers and shirkers with careful
closed companies, cut out of the high jinks and festivities.

Parking ban on city streets! Cancellations galore! Clear
Elation! No evening classes at Abundance of Life School.
Road to Responsibility closed. Reporters drenched
in hooded parkas, braced on jetties for high tides swelling

beyond any previously recorded capacity since time began.
The station gloats: outages, impassable interstates, visibility
a problem in this dome of high pressure. Miami 76 degrees,
as if we had to know. Little Miracles Pre-School closed,

the wall of snow accumulating at over an inch-an-hour.
Behold the Doppler—the Governor in the grave barracks
of the State Police pleading with his constituents to stay
OFF the roads; snow in tuba ovals on the cut stone seawall—

mounds of wet plaster slapped on granite hawks.

The Lily of the Harpoon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Notes on “Making the Rip”

What started out as the senior class of the school reading their project essays, turned into one of the most remarkable afternoons for the students, the parents and the fishermen who were reeled in to listen, comment, and answer questions. The fishermen were arrayed in the front of the community center, below the stage, and their good humor never waned. They smiled at the statistics and precautions in the student’s presentations. They nodded at the dangers.

But when the students began asking questions, the gathering hit its stride. Slowly, haltingly at first, one fisherman would answer, there would be a pause. The same fisherman would answer the next question. Then another fisherman remembered it another way. Then they disputed poundage. Then they remembered other fishermen, even one who had to be pulled out of the water more than twice. Lots of laughs. And who was the best harpooner.

Then out of nowhere, Greg Mayhew went up on the stage, put on his red hat with the long brim and showed everyone the parts of a harpoon, with a rope, the line, trailing behind. He was captain of the Unicorn and his demonstration put us all out there on his boat. And then the afternoon became bluefish jumping out of the water.

Fishermen were swapping stories right in front of us. They loved their work, they loved the rip and the tides, they were enamored of tuna and swordfish. I watched their faces, such satisfaction in their work, and now they were sharing it with the town, parents and their children on a cold afternoon.

And then Eric Cottle, who hadn’t said much, but had laughed along, said, “There was nothing else I ever wanted to do.” And right then and there, I realized there was something I had to do. Making the Rip is a series of quotations and memories and words familiar to fishermen.

Making the Rip

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The fifth-graders of the Chilmark School are explaining
divisions within the group of mollusks, cuttlefish,
oysters to the town’s fishermen, chairs set in a dorsal fin.

They listen intently as Owen describes the sword
of the swordfish cutting through the water, as Katy details
the dangers of long-lining, Deborah, the principal beaming.

And a hundred residents of the town catch these men
at their best, in plaid shirts on a Sunday afternoon, here
for something we love: fishermen telling stories.

“What’s the biggest fish you ever caught?” We see the glint
of the dart or lily in Greg Mayhew’s eyes as they remember
together, “My goodness, dressed out 525 lbs. as I recall.”

Others remember 608, 618, early days of fishing, early
mornings:“We went up on this fish, hanging down deep . . .
tons of ice in the hold,” hooked to stern for

tuna and the blue, blue of the swordfish, as Herbert calmly
says, “Nothing prettier than a swordfish in the water.”
One to starboard, two to port, three to strike, and drive

that pole down. Louie Larsen muses, “It was work,
and that was fun.” Song of the striker, quahogs,
cherrystones from Clam Point and pulling the traps.

We see the good wave of Bob Flanders, the Unicorn,
Jimmy Morgan pulling in and Jonathan Mayhew smiling.
And the secrets they kept from their fathers: no one tells you

where they go, but you want to go, go out,
waiting for summer, the kids waiting for summer,
squid-jigging, stripers, bluefish . . . Eric Cottle tells us,

“At fourteen, I needed a work certificate to get on
Benjamin Mayhew’s boat. Without it, he wouldn’t let me
work. I couldn’t wait for summer and school to be over—

there’s nothing else I ever wanted to do.” We come about.
Waiting for summer, waiting to drop the lines,
reeling it in.  “. . . nothing else I ever wanted to do.”