Shark River Dreams

When I was thirteen and fourteen, I worked on my uncle’s lobster boat in Neptune, NJ for a month each summer. My uncle treated me as a real employee. The work was hard, the hours were long, and the smell of fish was hard to escape. For a teenage boy, it was worth getting up at 4am to be on the ocean all day, become part of a crew, and be treated as a man instead of a boy. It was impossible not to learn about karma first hand from the lifers on the docks.  I will always remember these days with fondness.

 

shark river2
Postcard from the seventies for Shark River Inlet

Shark River Dreams

Seems the head hits the pillow, and the alarm begins to ring
total darkness, except the mocking face of the clock
sit down to eggs and hash browns to power the day
stars still watching, their shift almost ended, ours begins
old filleted flounder and such, garbage to most, bait to us
salted and set aside to ripen, now loaded aboard
as the mooring lines are tossed, the engines roar
timing the tide, to begin our day

Purple on the horizon fights the black
the sea, a glass-like calm today, merges with the sky
surprisingly, these are days that most flutter the stomach
the fumes of diesel accent the ripeness of bait
no breeze to rescue the senses
no distraction of swells, or jolting drops
just the spread of ripples across the surface
the distant horizon, birthing a sunrise in glorious form

Most days, just as the sun begins to crown
the winch is primed to disturb the peace
the first flag is pulled, raised from the depths
crabs, starfish, seaweed and tackle cling to the line
then the first trap hits the gunwale with a shot
my standing sleep shattered by our captured crustaceans
empty the trap, band the claws, bait the trap, and off the stern
just enough time to do it again!

Thirty pots to a line, fifteen to twenty lines make a day
following the path from rock bottom to mud flat
not really knowing if we are ahead or behind
the sun begins to bake the bait, add ambiance to the afternoon
crushed ice coated boxes filled with another days pay
the coast changes sides, the last flag of the day
the scrub down, the rubdown, the countdown to home
the tide again low as we enter the port

A full day at sea, but the day is not over
lobster deliveries get done and the bait trip is run
biz talk, trash talk, smack talk and plans
who’s stealing lines and who’s drilling hulls
what goes around-comes around, to the extreme!
men acting like boys and this boy feeling like a man
sitting with my Dr. Pepper, soaking it all in
can’t wait to see who’s not sailing tomorrow

Shark River, NJ – a summer full of dreams
never worked so hard or enjoyed so much
memories, one after another, so vivid and fresh
still taste the smells, and feel the swells
sea legged careening and rocking boat dreaming
combinations of curses never considered or imagined
and a cast of characters never forgotten
a remarkable summer job that taught life lessons

The world on the docks embraces a normal all its own

Previously published by Silver Birch Press (First Job Series)

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