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Mural, Anacortes Post Office, created for the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Arts by Kenneth Callahan, 1940

 My father is squinting up at the mural
      at my request, looking bent & small
in his eighties. He fished with his own
      father when young & knew boats. This one,
a seiner, takes up the whole left foreground,
bow & most of the hull out of frame, showing
      the white pilot house & everything aft:
the working deck with a wide open hatch
      & the space in which the close dance of nets
gets acted out, cork floats, lead weights,
the hundreds of feet of stiff cotton line with its
      intricate knots. To the right is the seine skiff,
just beginning the routine of making a set.
      What my father doesn't understand right off
is why so many in the crew: eight visible men
doing the work of four or five, & here
      are four in the stern sending the net over
the gunwale, a fifth at the hatch. There are
      two in the skiff: one at the oars, another
to manage that end of the web being fed
from one boat to the other. Two more men
      are barely in-frame on the left, one
in a second skiff next to the hull, another
      leaning toward him, both hands on the rail.
We can't tell what they're up to. All
of them wear foul weather gear, rubber boots,
      slickers or wool coats, waterproof hats. As a boy
I stood with my mother in a long line to buy
      stamps, staring up at those men who were just
like my grandfather's friends, the ones who'd hoist
me up like a fresh-caught salmon when the nets
      were laid out on the dock. They said I was too small
to keep & threatened to throw me back, dangling me out
      over the water. I was afraid of their heavy smell
like a tidal stink, their rough talk. Holding
my mother's hand, I imagined my father
      disappeared into water dark as the colors
in the painting. I wanted to be good
      so he'd come back to us, & each time he did
I believed I'd rescued him. Now he is caught
in the slow, steady current of dementia,
      & there's nothing anyone can do to bring him
about. The nets of his memory have rips
      that won't be mended, & thoughts slip
through like flashes of silver. It was always a numb
act of faith, fishing, risking one's life & no
      guarantee what would come wriggling over
the side, more dogfish than salmon, more
      tears in the nets & days at the pier for repairs.
So many men on the crew,
 my father says
again. Four on the nets, two in the skiff, two
      more doing god-knows-what. There's another:
someone's got to be on the wheel,
 my father
      says. Some old guy you hope to hell might know what
he's at.
 And the last man, the odd one apart
looking down into the open hatch, shoulders
      hunched, head bowed, hands meeting nearly
at his knees in a gesture that could be purely
      weariness, resignation, thanks, or prayers?
That one, Father, could be me. I was always yours.
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Author:Green, Samuel (American poet)
Publication:Prairie Schooner
Article Type:Poem
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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