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)|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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