This poem is fifth in the sequence 'Who He Was'. It's the story of my father's becoming a charter captain, a fisherman off the Jersey coast.
Who He Was – part V
The skeleton in a wheelchair props rented
tackle on the rail, stares down twenty feet
from a pier through salt subtropical air
at shoal water wavelets for blue slashes
flashing toward the bait below his float,
and misses one hit, two, a third, an inept
young butcher far from inner city streets
recovering from surgery, too proud
to bask with codgers, too weak to walk or swim,
a sutured rag doll whose one permitted
sport is dangling blood worms from a pole.
His father’s plumb and adze, mother’s thread and pins,
tradesmen, carters, peddlers, kaftaned bearded
kin, village landsmen from Ukraine, friends, nothing
in his life smelled of ocean; but cleaver
held again, he kept on fishing. Once a week
he drove eighty miles east to prowl the sea
with charter-men, ever farther from the coast
till, white coat and meat hook junked, he trolled
ballyhoo for marlin eight hours run offshore.
Two score and four skiffs on, by his command
we laid him down in fishing clothes, khaki
trousers, khaki shirt, Dan-Rick on the right
breast pocket, on the left Capt. J. Burt.
from Certain Windows (Carcanet, 2011), © Dan Burt 2011, used by permission of the author