July 6, 2018

Julie Price Pinkerton

ON THE PIER WHERE THE SIGN READS “NO INTENTIONAL SHARK CATCHING”

“Sharks 3 feet or under must be hand-lined and immediately released.
Sharks over 3 feet must immediately be released by cutting the line.”

No bullshit, you people.
Break the rules and get a fine of 500 bucks and 30 days in jail.

Here we are, all of us tourists, waiting for a table
at the pier restaurant, hanging around in lazy shorts
and sunburns and lumpy tote bags.
We can smell the end of our vacations in the briny air.
We dread going back to our boring lives of—

“They’ve got one!” someone shouts.
Two guys in their twenties are pulling it up
hand over hand, excitement pulsing from them
like mist from a Whole Foods vegetable sprayer.
Dozens of us go on red alert, rushing to the fray.
The little shark, a two-footer, whips its body—
a gray-white nothing-but-muscle missile—
back and forth with such formidable force

that the two captors strain all four biceps
to hold on hold on hold on jesus hold on
and try to work the awful hook from its mouth.
They jiggle it, twist it, tug it backward through
the wound they’ve caused. Pull pull pull pull.
They’re frantic but poised, like NICU docs
aching to get a preemie to breathe.

They hurry to their tackle box, flip it open,
grab some pliers, and sure enough,
we rubberneckers are right there with them,
moving from one side of the pier to the other
like Charlie Brown’s gang shuffling over
to decorate the dejected evergreen
with Snoopy’s store-bought sparkles.

We have become a conjoined blob, shapeless,
and also shameless, every last one of us.
I feel, all of a sudden, like an asshole.
I try to find a kindred spirit.
“Look at us,” I say. “We’re shark paparazzi.”
No one looks at me. No one laughs.
Gotta hold the cell phones steady
to capture this shark ourselves,
our own catch of the day.
It thwacks and snaps as though
the end of the entire angry galaxy
has been poured like gunpowder
into this enraged tube of fishbody.
It longs to unleash its sea-fury
on these two hook-wielding fuckers
and on all the paparazzi fuckers
who are saying things like
“Look at ’im fight!” and “Isn’t it weird
how it looks like he’s smiling?”

Yes. Smiling. Not the grimace of a child
pushed into a family’s holiday photo.
More like the grin of Beelzebub
or a parade queen runner-up,
picturing jolly retribution to come.

The hook will not budge.
The shark needs water.
They cut the line and toss it over
the side of the pier to the audience
below the surface: eels and horseshoe crabs,
miles of kelp, sand dollars piled up like poker chips.

The show is over. We’ll go eat dinner now,
scroll through our photos between bites
of today’s special, crab cakes, and maybe
order dessert before walking back to our
rented condo to pack our bags.
Tomorrow we’ll gas up the car
and head for home to face the smothering
list of things we came here to forget,
like the fact that we couldn’t really afford any
kind of vacation but our desperation won out.

I start to forgive the group of gawkers,
me included, for the bright burdens we carry
around our necks like neon pool noodles,
and for the great humiliating need
we sometimes have to see
a creature struggling
that isn’t us.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018

__________

Julie Price Pinkerton: “Traveling has always felt strange to me. When I was seven, my dad took our family on vacation to Washington, D.C., so we kids could learn more about the country he loved. He took us to meet our congressman, John Myers, and filled our week-long itinerary to the brim. Amid stunning monuments and museums, the thing I found most fascinating (aside from there being some new, otherworldly food in our hotel called honeydew) was that we encountered a taxi driver who smoked a cigar. I had never seen a cigar before. Five decades later, the small, unexpected parts of any trip are still like catnip to me. While at the beach last May with my husband, Scott, the shark scene in this poem unfolded in front of us. It’s a perfect example of what I’m drawn to most: numerous little chunks of strangeness pulling together like a pile of paper clips snapping onto a magnet. I could relate to every part of it. I was the crowd of nosy bystanders, the duo of fishermen, and the small creature minding its own business when it suddenly lands inside a snow globe of agony, looking for someone to rescue it.” (web)

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