Alaska Stories: 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
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.