“Fish Blood and Diesel Fuel” by Anne Winter

Anne Winter


The skipper, pale-haired-anglo-freckled, a real live red-neck
put a big salmon plug hook through his thumb
while they were in the middle of trolling the biggest humpy
catch of the season way
off Nootka and when he pulled out the hook
it took most of the thumb
with it, and they had to run in all night
the 36 foot ‘Sea Princess’, bow breaking
the black ocean, so he could get it sewed up
at the 12 room hospital that served 200 nautical west
coast miles where sweating hallucinations
occupied shaking raving DT’s
in 11 rooms, and anyway they needed an extra
deckhand for 6 days and I hired on right there in the pub
to go to sea and gut fish
cause everyone said even when his thumb wasn’t ripped
he was as safe as skippers get
and he never drank on board and as a ‘girl’
I could just work and not worry whether
I was hired as their whore
instead and I might get rich
cause some guys did and went to hot Mexico
escaping north-dripping-cold-9-month-rainforest
winter. When we were 40 miles
out where you can’t see land
anymore they hauled out a dozen 5 gallon boxes
with plastic spigots and started
drinking coffee
mugs full of rotgut
I kept to myself up on the sea
spray deck but I couldn’t help hearin’
their rape plans for the ‘girl’ “..and lock
her in the fo’c’sle while we run
to the Goose Islands, motherfuckerwhore”
so I got ready to gut
fish drawing my knife blade against
the gray whetstone spitting to slide
so fine an edge I could slit salmon bellys
and slice gills with just the tip
leaving the flesh free
and clean while I slapped a new flopping
body against the cutting trough salt
water turning the fish-blood pink
diesel fuel stinking up the air 40
miles out I sharpened that red
handled knife and it shone while I sharpened the next
knife and it glittered. I was the best rookie knife
sharpener around when the setting sun
bounced off the last
cardboard box thrown overboard.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004

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