Awakened by sky-creeping, light peeping moon,
I’m drawn once more to my meal gathering mode.
By hunger, but more by desire to roam
savor my before napping intention,
and devise my flight from nest.
Wind cycled about predictably today–
East to west. Stars of Jebro rose overhead
by sunrise – one sure sign his season will be
Time when sun cycles in north sky over.
Time for Kapilōñ to blow.
High-tide peaked at dusk. Lagoon waves pounded shore
eating into this stony beach below me.
Here I slept before my now coal-less fire-pit.
I discern them stumbling broken against
distant low-tided corals.
I absorbed these ceaseless wet lagoon-ward sounds
of shoreline changing in-surging waves below
these now dry sounds of swaying coconut palm’s
above my tattered, thatched, lean-to roof that
echoes wind-torn tussling.
Sounds of shallow shoaling waves at islet’s end —
my shredding coconut husk to tinder my
exploding sulfur match that’s light ignites
from today’s copra remnants that smolder
about hearth’s sunken barrel.
You stood by for untold seasons wet and dry
collecting raindrops that wandered down from sky.
When your side rusted out I cut you in two.
You serve me still.
Your rusty rim supports two bars burnt black.
Smoke swirls at Kapilōñ’s draft.
Yes, he gusts less fiercely now that tide is out.
His pace slackened at her predictive retreat.
That black smoke gives shape to his meanderings.
Meantime he holds
back attack till returning tide abides
his loud counter-cyclic squalls.
I drop dried coconut shells atop such flux.
Acrid smoke curls carelessly to smart my eyes.
I escape its choke by turning tearing face
back to Kapilōñ’s salty sky, and drink
his fresh, ever-present breath.
Impressed am I, by this contrariness I
find — the negative perfectness of this time.
This converse, mysterious westerly-ness
between summer’s doldrum calm and winter’s
dry easterly sun-storm sky.
As though come Kapilōñ was a season too –
some contrary spirit who yearly arrives
to ravage the calm of summer’s westward flow.
sea momentarily upon itself
before winter’s sure return.
His recent breath now bellows shell’s bursting flame.
As ocean’s reef now lies to lee perfectly
sheltered from his storm – it’s time to cane-pole stroll.
I begin by turning my back to flame
to warm chilled bone of my soul.
First, I tare midrib from coconut leaf thatch.
I dip its end into nearly empty well
of kerosene lamp. Then touch it to fire’s flame.
I save my matches for another day.
I raise its grey smoky glass.
I shield quickly failing flame with outstretched hand
I lite wick, close globe of wind protected light
that’s left behind me now as I step outside.
I sis the ledge
of battered stones that line the length of shore,
and mark recent, highest tide.
Where but hours before waves thumped and sucked up
the islets base to form this elongated,
smoothly created crater of washed up stones.
dead yet coral grasping roots of kōņņat
And coconut all down shore.
I reach before me kōņņat tree. I remove
cane pole from tight branches where it’s liked to keep.
I disturb the roost of flapping crowing mate.
Confused by cloud-blotched light of risen moon
“Shut-up friend! Squat back to sleep!”
Clouds pass from between moon and me to now allow
its light to shine finger’s path to end of line’s
transparent monofilament trap of death —
twenty-pound test —
no less. I pinch end of hook-less line and
rest again before my flight.
Tie line to looped end of wire. Thread eye of one
small but strong steel hook. Twisting wire back around
itself, making hangman’s noose where fatal hook
I ponder should I make another? No.
This shall be a one hook night!
Fire flickers back to smoke from yet unflared shell.
It cries and chokes for air in uprising heat.
I knock it to side with stick where it flares there
Place battered teapot atop red embers.
Pregnant moments slowly glow
beneath its dented, smoke-blackened dignity.
As the cycle proceeds – tide recedes — earth turns
moon appears to stream between the clouds, yet climbs
ineluctably churning big and small
even this soul within me.
You break your silence hissing steam. I stick-lift
your hot wire handle, setting your butt aside.
Stick-remove your blackened, aluminum lid.
sprinkle loose tea inside to steep its brew.
Rest anew before we pour.
Tentative slurping of hot tea from glass jar.
I am spirit. Only I can know that I
will one day die. Only I remember all
that passed within.
Know of things not of this world but beyond —
I have soul, so I am I.
Who but I can hear the ocean’s lonely sigh
upon rolling hundreds of miles from east to west —
She kisses her lover’s reef upon her crest
then protrudes her
self into each crevice her lover holds
exposed to her fickle ire.
Kapilōñ has flipped ocean’s force to what was
lee. She lumbers listlessly past what was once
a windward reef. Sloshing now permissively,
she must relent
to his manly, time-worn reality.
A perfect time for kappej!
Is that her distant incoming sish I hear?
Sweating now from hot tea and warm fire I lean
head hanging outside in breeze relaxingly
repeated squawk of weary fisher-bird
Nesting the night in his tree.
One fisher to another he decides to
confide with me this ancient proverb told by
fishers one and all. Feared by prey big and small
from age to age
this prescient advice never grows old —
Ṃōṃlep jab tōpar koņan.
In hurried interpretation, one might say
“Don’t rush off half-cocked.” That catches the meaning
well enough for some, but never at loss for
he continues his explanation. I
present my best translation:
“Who can say what countless seasons of broken
Coral and tidal shifting sands it takes to
raise one sandy spit upon the flat of one
How many fisher-birds to fertilize
roots for kōņņat trees to cling?
comes drifting over shore to sprout and there grow?
How many more before seafarer shorn from shore
“How untold more until mother coconut
can site from sea?
Then when by then can they plan their return
to plant and fish, weave and breed?
“What can one man’s rushing do when all’s been done?
Rather day by day to scatter bones of prey
yet every single quantity set against
succeeds not to budge the scale, one fish more
or twenty score all the same.
“Which has greater reality? Cold-eyed shark
or faltering prey? Answer lies within your
Soul. As for me I swear to live, hunt and die
of passion. Who eats me gets but bone. My
soul forever free shall roam!
“So, deliberate it all my friend, fish as
slowly as it all began. Never worry
about what brings success. Those luckiest are
Why hurry? You have but one moment to
live, eat, die, and be eaten?”
Thus, ends the gist of my shortest translation.
I shake yesterday’s sand from torn tennis shoes
Yes you, shit in moonlight and compile your poo.
Yet, even I,
collector of distant sharp-edged coral sands,
am a builder of islands.
Childish crying soul, you daily flocking fly
screaming at your sister tuna below to
chase skyward your fleeing, fingerling meals.
flop upon your pray, then come to princely shit
quantities of chalky goo.
I, with greater spirit fly, yet even I
amidst these adventurous designs of mine
must stop to express superiority.
I hang basket over shoulder and slip
knife between its palm leaf weave,
and make my way along this time again trail
through dim mosquito drone listlessness
of this island’s narrow, dank interior.
that echoes sounds
as pigs grovel, night birds squawk and ocean’s
reef surge shoreward with each step.
Smells of soured fallen coconuts and dead,
rotten palm leaves I inhale before I drag
my cane-pole’s butt-end through kōņņat lined islet’s
as sky opens upon me urgently
as I clutch soft fallen leaves.
I one-handedly gather as I rush to
untie my belt I step onto reef and squat
before vast expanse of turbid ocean-sky.
Much relieved I
Gaze contented at un-ended measure
of my I all aloneness.
My stomach pangs insistently, patiently
I comply. Then leaf myself behind with brine.
Moon shines silver bright as cloud blows from under.
Its gloomy ghost
fleeing from flat rock-strewn reef be-under-me –
gone to haunt the seaward breeze.
Above clouds sweep, icy wisps above them creep
below patches of blackness where stars must spin
upon their way, planets orbit other days
stars into greater men than I. Surely,
I alone behold this sky.
Reflected by puddles upon stark, flat reef
haunted by gigantic, jagged coral rocks –
Megalithic spirits cast up by ancient
raging nights –
now hunched and scattered as though guarding shore
harmlessly concealing crabs.
As far as my eyes can see waves curl gently.
Break surging gray, moon’s glow almost forgotten.
My bait surprises as he sideways-scampers.
My fingers pounce.
My thumb incaves. His scramble saves him not.
He dies at basket’s bottom.
I continue seaward, overturning my
rocky way — like a fisher bird stalking pray.
Beneath my tennis shoe you die. You and I
most presently present to seek, escape,
or uncourageously die.
Like a wind-swept leaf tumbling to final
resting place, all of us must one night give up
to greater forces that negate our choices.
This universe of why — yet only I
decide, question, and recall.
I continue, retreating before the wind
casting my shadow across this barren reef,
quick-stepping yet remembering my motto
not to hurry.
I head with deliberation toward
past-proven spot for kappej.
Balancing myself upon now living corals
like wadding to the knuckle of one partially
submerged, horrendous, out-stretched and grasping hand,
beneath my shoes, careful not to canvas tare,
I reach first place of calling.
Surround me sounds of ocean’s majestic breath —
exhaled surging, coral seething, churning, then
inhaled receding, draining, sucking sounds of
voice of one trillion coral crevices
exploding then imploding.
Sights of moon drawn sea flash silver as clouds pass.
Bright water bleeds down through jagged coral cliffs
into maelstrom caverns of white seething foam.
Rolling toward me
waves froth and tumble as I see, hear, taste
all as one compelling song.
Commencing my attack, I take one of eight
shoulders torn from our friend’s multilegged chest.
Peal shell from victim’s upper arm. Crunch lower
between my teeth.
Spit chum into palm of flinging hand, and
toss his scent into the flux.
“Kook, kok, kok, kok, kook! Wōde im ajoḷe!”
I chant calling his predators to come
toss blobs of crunched up chum to tease them some, so
life precedes death.
I wonder why we decry the later?
To live we all must eat
Insert barb of hook through hollow shoulder’s shell.
Now swing line slack, wired hook fling back then wrist snap
bait forward flies slap upon surface of pool
down into crystal black — sinks silently.
Momentarily I wait.
Lightning-like red snapper strikes and threatens pole
Not tonight! I raise him surface-thrashing.
He attempts to retreat, but not tonight. I
Air wrestle him
to coral ledge of pool, butt end braced into
notch of my determined hip.
He lands flapping onto puddled coral ledge.
Soon large-mouthed basket laughs at his useless flaps.
Carefully I pinch into sockets of eyes.
I Lift his head.
Work hook free from choking jaw, then slide
back down destined there to die.
Turning I notice gray clouding up looming
over island’s palms. Headed my way? Okay!
Moments of nothingness as line languishes,
drifts bait forlorned. Yet
nothing shall outmatch this sure intrepid
fisherman’s will to succeed
I up-tug, and up-yank up, yet no fish snaps.
I recoil, re-slap re-wait expectantly.
Pool flushes, recedes, surges, as bait waits
Clouds rush, grayness drifts towards and threatens me.
I snicker at its pretense.
How many untold nights have I spent cruising
up and down this reef? Facing rain’s blackest squall —
proving time and time again the magic of
my spirit’s call —
keeping one rule upon my mind – lucky
fishermen must keep moving.
Only I among this ceaseless, cyclic flux
can contemplate my out of place bad luck. So
without discouragement I turn back windward.
Like pejwak bird
re-circling his ocean pray, responding
as baitfish wander away.
Unencumbered moonlight beams upon bald reef…
Ugly slanting toward me grayness now betrayed
by brightened sky — revealing back-lit sparkling
thin drape of rain,
and moonlit mounds of red and blue coral
surf-frothed as I wade away.
Step over undulations of deep reef well
gurgling its water ebbs and seaward flows,
then cycles up-gushing sounds of skyward spew
as I pause before too lately leaping on
its spine trickling chill lingers.
As I approach I nor before fished crater —
seaward sheltered by breakers of upgrown coral.
Intuition drawn, I edge my way along
myself no doubt above predators that
dart about its blue-black depths.
“Kook, kok, kok, kok, kook! Wōde im ajoḷe!”
I cry, my line attacked by forceful jerking
angling pole to breaking point I bend the will
of moon-reef beast.
Draw his fitfully protest to side of pool,
raise him gasping first dry breath.
Fling him splashing flap onto coral ledge. He
wrangles into shallow coral cranny, then
presses his face into shallow pool. You fool!
I draw my knife
crunch cranium as pool surges rinsing
spirit free to seaward flee?
Slip finger under jawbone, over gills.
Lift him blood seeping, dripping moon-shined brine-
Snapper of gigantic size hanging lifeless
his spirit flies
into ocean or up to sky? No one
I know knows to what nor where?
Who can know what untold spirits fly this air
or cruise below? Even so, I shall not fear.
I shall not want for courage. I shall not daunt!
Though time itself
shall grind my bones to sand, this silent cheer
shall be capped and set adrift.
I hear a thousand hollows gurgling below.
Oh yes, I know in what countless numbers cruel
monsters squirm below within their lairs. I’ve seen
their narrow heads
poke through upon these moonlit nights and sway
like cobras about to strike.
They say they snap at any splashing sound.
Drag victims down into their coral caves.
They say they latch onto flesh of leg or hand
tare meat from bone or clutch relentlessly
till turning tide drowns you dead.
Rows of teeth throat-ward pointed, ready to lunge
Un-extractable, entwined somewhere below
amid the under-maze of crevices, he
awaits your step, they say. Fellow fisher
I plan to cut loose your head.
I give them not one thought tonight, Turn to
darkening under-passing clouds above instead.
Windward the blackness looms. I will not fear. Those
cold slanting streams
of rain may then heighten this lonely cry:
“Sky enhance my spirit’s flight!”
I rebait, recast as I feel first drops of
strength splash upon my back — crater into sea.
Striking jato explodes up defiantly
Once again, my noisy basket laughing,
Again, my chanted crying
to harden spirit against now howling wind.
Repeated rebaiting, recasting, waiting,
I now chant again my audacious magic
cold blackness falling across dark bleak reef —
like a pejwak’s midnight squawk.
My will enhanced I fill my basket again
then again to sounds of a trillion raindrops
splashing — wind lashing — snapper skyward slashing —
Struggling triumphant sounds of fisher’s
Fifth, sixth, seventh cold eyed catch.
Raincloud passes upon my soul now big as
the sky. I can see through the gray to the deep
blue moonshined clearness of western beyond. Stars
through the lifting rain. Flying fish takes flight –
I see my whole life pass as
his image skirrs across the edge of me. Glides
upon in-swelling, nearly breaking wave.
It whirrs sleekly upon its updraft at last
itself back to this ever changing
sea of surely something’s sight.
Gone away I imagine it persisting
below. As I imagine the tides changing
ageless aging – the spirits secret I know
I can sense the powerful insistent
duration of a life’s time —
a sea’s time — a moon’s time — a star’s time. I can
see the world and its shadow as well.
Yet still I cherish what makes me a man and
as no one else: My will to fly and then
just as well to tuck and die.
Again, I cry: “kook, kok, kok, kok, kok, kok, kook”
But my chant’s magic has faded with the rain
Then one unanticipated fierce jerking
breaks line, takes hook.
Senses betrayed by imagination
My untimely visions fade.
Bad luck? Who can say what courage a man has
caught upon his way? Or how much sky he’s trapped
within his eye? What mysteries have forged his
will to steel? I
never consider failure or success —
roving nights but spirit’s flights.
A man casts his time upon a line fragile
as his dying breath, yet grapples up his world
holds onto it with all his might, and molds his
as if carving his name upon trunk of
tree in which his spirit nests.
Flying nightly to and fro, no man knows for
what he seeks nor what he will returning bring
that will add one final defining touch to
his life’s long song.
The man who fails to mark his tree forfeits his
spirit’s sole chance to be.
Among a crowd of others, a fisher stands
unto himself. All those standing in between
rush like children pursuing their inner selves
each succeeds or fails to make their mark. All
life is but a one hook night.
I have since returned to my thatched cookhouse fire.
Fish salted, others eaten, I’ve slurped my tea.
This song I have composed to leave my mark, I
paper into bottle and toss to sea
when you read think not of me.