I was nonplussed. I'd set that piece - or, rather, pieces - aside because I was stumped at how to connect all the disparate stories and poems I had written over the years into a coherent whole. When I first started writing it shortly after I retired from teaching (the second time) in 2010, I thought it'd be clever to put them in a non-linear format. I landed on a "conceit", or template for telling the story that involved me knocking a pile of old fishing permit cards onto the floor. Those cards are issued by the State of Alaska annually, and each year is a different color. A fisherman must use them to sell their fish to a processor each time they deliver their fish, so the processor knows the fisherman is licensed.. Many fishermen such as myself save them as mementos of their years fishing. When, in the writing of the first version of the memoir, I bent over and picked up a card, I'd look at the year stamped on it and that would trigger memories - stories - of that year. The idea was that the reader would encounter the characters and events out of sequence, and the more they read, the more the pieces of my fishing life would snap into place. It was a good idea until I realized there were multiple people named Rob and more than one Danny. Sorting them out became more and more difficult and redundant as I found myself spending too much time explaining who exactly I was talking about instead of telling the story. By the fifth or sixth card, I was frustrated and realized it wasn't going to work. So I set the project down and walked away. For almost ten years. Then Veronica, as she does, got an idea about what I should do with my time. And for that, I am forever grateful. "Waiting to Deliver: from greenhorn to skipper, an Alaskan commercial fishing memoir" launched Feb. 17th, 2022, and the response from a wide variety of folks - fishermen, former students, old college friends, FisherPoet Gathering fans friends, family and outright strangers have snapped up almost all of the first printing (225 copies). The book is on Amazon now, and, I'm starting to collect some very complimentary and humbling reviews. So for you readers who haven't yet bought one, here's a little taste. I added vintage B/W photos I took while fishing (I taught photography for 28 years), and peppered the book with poems. Here's one of my favorites:
All the years I been on a boat,
commercial fishin' on the ocean afloat,
I always seem to find a way to be
what you might call hygienic –
and never use a bucket at sea.
Now let me explain – my first job is as a crew
on a Cook Inlet gillnetter – and I’m new,
so I work hard and keep my mouth shut
when given all the crappiest jobs, but
all this business with work boats and fish,
the hardest thing to stomach is the dish
my skipper feeds me when he says with a smile,
like he knows just how I’ll react all the while:
There ain't no toilet on a boat, it's called a 'head’.
We ain't got one here, so use that there bucket instead.
The container he points to is black and thin,
tucked behind the ladder, it barely has a rim.
I find out later some guys have a toilet seat
they put on their bucket to make it complete.
But the sketchiest thing is – I mean, what the hell?
I have to use it outside, on the back deck,
in the fish-picking well?
Everywhere we fish there are always other boats around;
seems to me the only privacy is back on solid ground,
or in the head of another boat that might tie up for a while –
where I can close a door and do my business in solitary style.
I’m convinced, but don’t show it or say it out loud,
there is no way I’m performing in front of a crowd!
So I hold it – sometimes for days
and I refuse to relinquish my restricted ways.
While we’re at sea or even anchored up –
doesn’t matter for how long – I’m a bound-up pup!
With a nod toward the bucket, my skipper says,
Do you EVER take a shit?
Not on THIS boat! I shoot back, and turn my head and spit.
Well how do you go about that when we’re fishin' for days?
he asks, and shakes his head at my unnatural ways.
I have a strong sphincter, I begin... Ya see…I… ah, fuck it!
I'm telling you, I’ll never, ever use that stinkin’ ol’ bucket!
I won't have my turds slosh 'round when the weather gets rough
and slap my port and starboard as the boat rolls in the trough!
And what if that flimsy fucker collapses under me
when I'm sittin' out there emptyin' my scuppers at sea?
I'm tellin' you, skip, I have a fish hold full of motivation
for me to maintain this extensive constipation!
And I intend on holdin' it 'til the season's over and done,
when I can pull down my rain gear and rest my bum
on a nice, white toilet seat above a clean porcelain bowl –
where I can properly deposit… a civilized roll!"
That said, we go back to work,
and though I am full of it, I try to not be a jerk.
But whenever a boat with a head ties alongside
I start to feel the surge of an outgoing, ebbing tide.
And when we hit the dock, it’s always a lively chase
as off the boat I fly and to the cannery john I race!
I know my skipper, on more than one occasion
has wagered a bet or two against me, but the rising sensation
inside me of impending jet propulsion
always seems to result in a positive conclusion.
I always make it. I'm really not sure how;
but my sphincter and legs make sure
my stern stays clean somehow.
I'll fly my flag high: I'm proud to say I’ve always ducked it,
and never, ever used that old black bucket!