Making the Rip

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, he was hanging down deep . . . fourteen
tons of ice in the hold,”
hooked to stern, white marlin, tuna,

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, eggers, pulling

the traps, the good wave of Bob Flanders, the Unicorn,
Jimmy Morgan pulling in, Jonathan Mayhew smiling,
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, fishing,
reeling it in. “. . . nothing else I ever wanted to do.”

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