Gills sprung, some pop
when they kiss the crucifier.
Mouths trigger, huge as buckets,
bodies arch sideways all their length,
and every fin flares from pectoral to caudal.
Inboard from gaff and roller, the longline
crackles under strain, steadily threading its machined
narrows. Cod lips hit the slot, hooks rip free, leaving
cantilevers of jaw in ruin, and fish thresh crisply,
skidding the chute to the tank, lashing like little storms.
Ruptured up from depth, each crosses the rail
busted in its guts as gasses expand the swim bladder
and blow mesentery, living gaskets torn, anal flues
breached, dying even as hydraulics crucify
by kiss. Circle-hook after circle-hook
wrenches from flesh and flesh
sloshes the bleeding trough.
Charles tips his blade
into membrane ahead of the collar,
Miguel touches bright steel through a sluice
of crimson abaft the last gill raker.
Drew hones his edge
along fifty-eight degrees north, slips it
perpendicular to the isthmus, working arc-
wise right toward his own fingers.
Operculum rifts from pectoral girdle
when Matthew’s knife hand sighs
as if to release light glyphed in a red spurt.
Shift relieves shift.
The inclined conveyer grinds to starboard.
Mist, frosted adrift off a plate freezer, slews
outboard, swaddles the bleeder, then separates.
Constant near the ears of the sailor,
hooks tick rhythms
quicker than cod hearts ever beat
as the hauler strips groundline through fathoms
and barbed circles clack and plink against
the lip of the tube that guides them to their rack,
yarded aft by the slack-taker.
Sometimes blood, pooled in the heart sac,
suddenly darkens the trough,
plumed somber as predawn,
tilted cold upon metal
smelted to sheet and weld.
Sometimes blood pelts like stormlight
loosed from its furnaces and drawn
gusty under nimbus, decrypted, unflumed
from the large-bore artery charged by the gills.
Scarlet curdles to steelwork until the deck hose
peels color away, flushed to the sumps.
Finally, a few twitches of muscle,
the cod pumping out as it rides prongs
up the conveyer, its last crimson
frayed and hanging in scraps, clotted and swaying
from the grating of the belt, blood shreds
draped over bolt heads like some wrecked lace
once knotted from a thread
out of the dark of a world
unseen, the axle of which turns unseen.
After sixteen hours, Charles gazes
past his right hand, a claw drawn to.
His left elbow hitches sharply,
recalling every broken jaw, every neck plate
forced for his knife, ligament
articulating a body of law spoken in salt.
His story of sea chamber and torn aorta
knots muscles in his lower back, a legacy
ancient as hunger, no older than fear. Sunrise
blusters ragged at the end of watch. The day
tatters, bleeding out as if nicked by steel,
the man become mere matter.
October 2008, B-Season
58E 39.78N N, 177E 02.32N W
F/V Alaska Mist