Alaska Stories: Cathedral

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

 

wave or mountain

Cathedral

 

Keeping monks hours, I arise

at midnight to a false dawn

where the sun pauses at the horizon

and creeps sideways like a crab.

 

Our crew chief materializes at the door

salmon roe dripping from his palms.

Midair, he draws the sign of the dollar.

Then, I am Lazarus summoned

and am clumsy as any thing

newly risen from the dead

 

The hallway is already busy

men in ripped rain slickers lay stretched out

along the floor in pools of fish blood–

obscene parodies of their former mainland selves.

 

We genuflect beneath the smudge stick

of a Marlboro

As we return to our ice sanctuary

And pray on our feet beneath a malevolent god–

a huge, metal tank furiously hiccuping fish

and drooling arctic water.

 

It stands, at the altar, a cross.

Like good apostles, we bow our heads anointed

with debt and poverty and fish scales

while believing that our lives prior to this

was a vision had between shifts

 

We use herring for our communion.

They represent our sins and spewed

before us every 15 seconds are a new

assortment of reasons to repent.

 

After eight hours, I spend

breakfast on deck

surrounded by a quarantining ocean.

So barren and desolate

Even islands cannot grow here.

 

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye,

there appears a stalk of kelp

on the surface of the water.

I blink twice

before I can look directly at it and see

it is Not a corpse

floating                        forgotten

it’s just… uprooted seaweed.

 

But the apparition still frightens me–

because this is the first time

I’ve ever seen a dead body

and was            envious

 

***

I worked 16 hour shifts on the processor.  After work and maybe just before dinner, I’d stand on deck in the freezing cold.  Sometimes dolphins, sometimes mountain ranges in the distance.  Most of the time, nothing.  The job struck me as what being in a military work prison must be like.   Repetitive, isolating, endless, hard labor.   The natural surroundings fed me; the ocean, the wind.  As the end of a full month approached, kind of felt myself going mad.  I guess we all were.   I remember standing at a urinal and suddenly bursting out singing R.E.M.’s The One I Love.  At that age, I’d never loved anyone.  I shared a cabin with 16 people, all of us in bunks stacked three high.  Down the hall more people seemed stuffed into an even smaller space than ours.  Mine was the top bunk at the door, so when the crew chief would barge in, I would look and see the silhouette of a blond dude in a rain slicker, tendrils of cigarette smoke rising around him like soft jail bars.  Out in the hallway, dudes sat on the floor waiting a couple of minutes for start time.  I took the job for money, natch– but after a while it didn’t seem worth it.  This was the time in my life when i learned some money isn’t worth the process it takes to make it.

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