He rowed to the secret places
of other men, twisted spine
and dry rope sinew of a thief.
A sharp exhale on every pull.
splash and momentum, breath
splash and momentum, carried the skiff
and its hunched cargo out past the perch,
to the white and seaward green.
the scars of a thousand silver moons
etched into his forehead and red fuzzed arms.
The forest of one hundred months
his yellow juice stained grisly beard.
The sea fouled by tobacco slime
as shoulders settled to the rhythm.
He set no lines, baited no traps,
he collected a teachers tax.
Payment of every lesson taught,
to younger men and eager boys.
How to drop a heavy cage upright,
how to keep a floating mooring tight.
Showed them how to pull rock salmon
from a lobster cage and not lose-
a hand to snarling gnashing fangs,
how to smash a head and break a spine.
The rocks off the head yielded gold,
Not ever more than one pot a man
take what’s there or suffer no reward.
He re-baited with a master’s skill.
He took no more than two, black monsters,
He banded claws and rowed back in,
back straighter and voice lighter.
The haul, the price of a day’s drinking
In the winter gales he relied
on stories and fairy tales
that he spun from jagged rain
and the whore nymphs of cold sea mist.