Wave Upon Wave
Alexander Bartone, Division 2, 12th grade #ws17e-s1d2

The lobster in my hand kicks its tail, and I can feel the newly molted shell, delicate and malleable, bend inward in my grasp. As I have a thousand times before, I twist on the bands and tuck the lobster into the tank, where it spirals down into darkness. My captain, W, watches the next trap emerge from the water like a revelation. He is seventy-plus, a man whose grey moustache is permanently flecked with salt. W doesn’t talk much—the season is too short. This is the second summer I’ve worked as his sternman. I am learning how to embrace long hours of marine routine and silence. Poetry is one of my methods.

I curl a pogie into a bait bag, but my thoughts are elsewhere, on the poem I’m composing in my head. As water reaches up to slap the boat, I think, ""Cathedral ceilings of kelp/lift the traps."" I nod: that sounds right. As we stream to our next trap, I watch the familiar ledges as they ""yawn out into the morning light."" I drop a herring into the bait bag and run through my poem so far, replacing forgotten lines with new words that nestle into place like fingers into gloves.

A streak of motion distracts me from my reverie: W has slipped to my right to patch a trap. Instinctively, I slide to check its contents: a single lobster ""thrusts its claws out like a crucifix."" I circle a finger around the lobster’s knuckles and hold it up alongside the words. I like how they feel together, heavy and rough. The words focus the creature in my hand, make it more real, more present. They darken the pigment of its shell and slow my motion so I notice the spots on its body, the cuts in its claw, its marks of distinction. I drop the lobster in the tank and tuck the words away for later.

“Beaut-i-ful!” W shouts over the din of the engine, grinning as I execute what he’s taught me: simply, wordlessly, carefully. His thick accent smudges the words together: “Let’s do a short break.”

I smile and nod in response. The clock ticks stoically above the dash, but I’ve ignored it since first light, content to revel in the beauty of feeling adrift. Grabbing my granola bar, the only lunch there’s time for, I watch our wake fan out and rock W’s maroon buoys, which dot the surface like tacks in a map, marking the places we’ve been, the places we’ll be. If I squint, I can see the precise, artisan lines we’ll travel—with each trap, I can make out the different words that will nestle into my head, disorganized but honest, as much of a reflection on the work I’ve done as the mud that cakes my oilskins.

On shore, I grab a pen from my car and scrawl ""Summer in the Kelp Fields"" at the top of a page. The shape of a poem begins to form—lines crossed out, arrows connecting images. I am intent on capturing the words before they ebb away. The ground beneath my feet is solid, but it feels as if the deck is still shifting beneath me as I glide ""over wave upon wave."" There’s my ending. The words pitch back and forth as W’s diesel engine rumbles in the distance, strong and rhythmic and resilient.
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