The Water Under Fish Landing

Before Learning To Count

For Naphtali, Age 3

You were out till midnight last week
fishing with your father and me.
It is the herring you remember most--
tiny thing, caught among the salmon,
dead, but in your small hands,
as you held him to the sun
shining back his emerald and opal prisms,
he was almost swimming again.
When you were done,
you set him down among the salmon
in the bin, petted him good sleep.
Later, at the tender, you did not see us sort
and toss the worthless over.

Soon you will have a job--
bailing and cleaning kelp from the boat.
After that, you will get the white cotton gloves,
children's small, to hold and hook the net
while others pick fish and count. Then you
will pick and count fish and

6 days till the closure,
7 nets left to mend
823 pinks from net #5
60 seconds before noon on opening day
3 hours of sleep lost last night
4 nets still to pick in the dark . . .

Ten years from now, if I hand you a herring,
you will instantly know its weight,
what the canneries are paying per ton
that year, and you will remember,
as you toss it over--
this one doesn't count.

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