Roberta Feins

Two Women: Sekiu

She does not like boats, she hates
water. And now, her husband, relentless,
is taking her son, and me (daughter-
in-law), salmon fishing.
        Five hours in his Ford,

up the Olympic Peninsula, he’s humming
some get-ready tune. Metal clunker
of a boat sways along behind,
framed in the high rear window. 
        Through towns along the Straits,

farmland past harvest. Shy mist
clutches the skirts of scolding hills.
Some are luscious green, others jagged,
logged bare. Looks like rain he says.
        Yes, she answers, briefly.

At road end,  hundreds of trailers,
thickets of masts, the thirsty smell of gasoline.
Girls are selling berries: 10 cents a bowl.
No one’s buying. They're in the shanty line,
        buying beer and herring bait,

bags of chips, mauve, plastic
flourescent octopus lures, and beer.
The motel carpet’s gritty, mustard-stained.
Kids in wet bathing suits shiver
        up the stairs,

through scuffed halls past barking terriers.
Bob and his Dad launch the boat,
park the trailer, stack poles by the door.
Late sun slants on heaps of empty cans,
        barbecues sizzle

next to panel trucks: Pinewood Construction,
Sound Auto Supply
.  Buddies talk less,
not more, drunker they get.
They resettle their caps,
        tip the bottle again.

She mixes lemonade in a pitcher,
I stir Mac-cheese on the stove.


Alarm’s a siren song, mermaid
with a danger buzz in the cold, close dark.
She fixes us eggs, home fries
tho' we’re so sleepy we can barely swallow.
        I’ll pray for you, she says.

Wrapped in long underwear,
obedient wool, rubber boots, we shoulder
poles, tackle, nets, buckets,
the bait cooler, bags of food, pound down
        the rickety stairs.

The boat’s aluminum is painfully cold.
Bob starts, warms up, calms
the trembling motor. Diesel smoke rises
to meet early fog.  Vague figures 
        bend, curse their engines.

Outside the breakwater, we slam across each wave,
bouncing hard.  I brace my thighs against
each blow.  My gut cramps.
Women are not supposed to do what frightens.
        Fierce crash of water

on the rock called Mussolini’s Head.
His helmet’s a carpet of shrubs,
chin strap, a crack lined with obese
green anemones, eyelashed
        with pink tentacles. 

Dad decides we have arrived, slows
the boat. We slice herring at an angle
so it will spin and shine, lower
the lines and troll –  across the Straits
towards Canada and back.
        Ink-brushed strokes of flying birds. 


By 10 AM, she’s read two pages
of her romance.  True love she thinks,
is the warm and steady embrace of  family,
children safe at home. On the way to the shop
        for a cup of coffee,

she stops at the pier, strains
to pick out our boat among the others.
What does it mean that she can't recognize her own?
They’d be lost without me, she thinks,
        starting another prayer.


We stare at water shiny as a new pan.
The boat meets each long Pacific swell:
rises, falls, bumps – then a wallow.
Below the surface, kelp fingers
        twine in an icy current

from Alaska, strained clear
through auguries of  baleen, ruffled feathers
of tiny barnacles. A wrinkled log
rolls up beside our boat, snorts,
        sinks down. A turgid trunk,

glint of whiskers, the brown eye
of an elephant seal. As he dives, I feel
a deep pull in my belly. Scorned bait,
scarred pearl, rooted from its sheath
        of  blood and brine.

Another childless month.  An egg,
wasted, tugs downward toward the sea.
An open boat is not designed for women.
With no privacy, a shameful task
        is left undone. 

I pull up my bait, the slick barb
comes up barren. Herring’s gone, taken
by some sly Chinook who slipped
the double hooks, swam on towards

his mythic end: falls-leaper, tail-
thrasher.  The next one fights to undo
the hungry mistake. I set the barb, reel it in,
hooked along the belly, writhing
        in the full moon of net.

We cradle and measure his desperation,
still his quiver with a stick.  The herring
still glistens in his throat. Blessed be the fruit.


Mom’s been reunited with her family.
Clean and padded, I line up
at the fish-gutting station, scattered with scales,
awash with blood. It rides so low,
        I shift for balance

whenever someone comes or leaves. 
I grasp my fish’s firm, cold flesh,
 twist to empty the body. A female,
her pellucid golden roe glistens
        in its slippery sac of gel.

I tongue one amber pearl of egg
then bite down. Shocking clap
of brine in my waiting mouth.

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