new zealand electronic poetry centre

S T U A R T    M U N R O   


Bad Blood

When night has furled his star-pierced wings
To stoop on countries farther west
The grey pre-dawn that limns the sky
Prises the fisherman from his rest.
They line the rail, retell the tale
Of water not just cold, but deep!
While tea is sipped and moorings slipped
The sea-breeze dreams; he never woke
The water’s dark and smooth as ink
The keel’s the pen, to draw the first bold stroke.

So laggard day finds working craft
Pursuing the wild rock lobster
And they that chase the spiny beast
Are stern and sage and firm, at least,
The good ones are, the rest are nearly mobsters
But not our two, they were straight enough
As good as the next man or maybe better
Not given to theft or courting
A determinate left at Pukeweka

Malc’s hair was dark his face was creased
Somewhere between a frown and a smile
He’d a bow in his back from gutting on deck
And the scars on his hands were from sharks
On the cod lines off Pegasus
Though he hadn’t been there in a while
Fishing North East in a steady old boat
He wasn’t too rich but he was doing okay
In a bad year he had fun, and if the ‘fish chose to run
He would chase them. It worked, and it paid.
Des was a new bloke from somewhere up North
A slave to a boat loan in it’s third year or fourth
Not much of a boat if the truth’ll be told
Several guys’d worked through her
Cheap, but they knew her
In the success that she brought she’d been sold
North East was best, close-ish to the Bay
Des never stayed out for over a day
And he looked a bit big for his wee little boat
But no-one worked harder ashore or afloat

Below the lightening kelp-fringed sky
Sand-tigers were out upon the prowl
Spiny dogs gathered to hunt in packs
And crayfish discretely but never completely
Returned to their cracks in the foul.
For ever and ever a few are missed
That see the grey boy’s smiling face
Or meet with cod and then with God
Or waltz in the feke’s rapt embrace
Others, lured with hanging fish
Ponder the puzzle box, unhappy wretches
Caught in a pot, the great would die
Together with every one that stretches

The voice that spoke a thousand ships
World famous on the southern ether
Calls the sched and ordered bread
That holds the fragile world together
And when the tide is running slack
The buoys come up, and the boys come to ‘em
And grapple them up to haul the pots
Bait them again and untangle the knots
You find where there are a few of ‘em

Nowadays most boats have sounders
And finding the foul is not so hard
There’s the GPS and no need to guess
But it weren’t always so
There used to be marks
You’d line up a tree on the neck
with the shoulder behind it
and when Bench closed the bay
you’d be on one spot in the blue
As true as you could in those days
And Malc ran maybe sixty pots
But he placed them well and made them count
Des couldn’t do so well with twice the amount

Now local ‘fish are dark and red
And often rather small
But run fish, ah! Run fish!
They’re not the same at all, at all
Run fish are big and bold and fine
More brown and gold than red or wine
Light as Rapunzel’s hair or honey
Lightly barnacled and sea furred
They’ve been running upstream
And round to Tasmania
Since Maui went fishing

And Des noticed whenever he followed Malc’s pots
He was following run fish, as often as not
And he heard in the pub where he didn’t much go
For fisherman don’t really drink often, lord knows
That Malc had a mark book he had from a cod man
Old as Prospero’s books, when the sons of Tuwaiki
Could swim like the selkies, and come to no harm
In the bright days before the fell Northerner’s charm

So before very long listening to all this talk
Young Des was a terrible bad Mollyhawk
Where Malc put a few pots Des’d put twenty
And where Malc got a few fish Des got a lot
Which he wouldn’t have grudged him apart from the knots

Knots get pretty bad with the pots close together
If the boats can’t get out for some days for the weather
They’ll shorten the ropes up so bad they’ll pull under
Well on just such a day Des was first to the pots
And found them submerged by a hydra of knots
It was drizzling and sloppy grey with a gale wired
Frustrated and busy and worried and tired
Cutting and splicing to the warnings he heard
From Pusegyr to Riverton and a blow was the word
With the sea getting up he just cut and run
Three of Malc’s pots, and a feud was begun
Malc’s boat was better and he didn’t mind seas
Though he couldn’t pull pots he found cut ropes floating
And imagining the homeward bound Des was off gloating
He circled the pots and towed them off together
Before heading for home just ahead of the weather
And the blow when it blew, blew for nearly a week
The fisherman were sulkily stuck on the beach
Or the pub where they really preferred not to go
But what else can you do when the wind really blows
When the gale finally died and they all ventured out
Not a few pots were gone, and those that were not
Were emptied by fekes or full of eel snot
And the pots Malc had towed off the edge of the foul
Had rolled up a ball with their ropes out of reach
And in ten years or twenty will roll up on a beach

A bleak day later when he’d been round them all
Des was near Malc’s boat and gave him a call
Said “Have you seen my pots, I’d bunch about here?”
And Malc said he hadn’t and had Des seen his few
And he smiled, which was something that one shouldn’t do
Because Des saw the smile and Des thought he knew
So he smiled back, but he thought “bugger you!”
Then on the way home he cut off some pots
Only a dozen, not like it was a lot
Not a third what he’d lost in the course of the blow
But the next day was fine and Malc couldn’t not know

Even though they were good blokes not given to theft
In less than a week they had not a pot left
And Des’s wee boat caught fire by pure chance
Which had nothing whatever to do with insurance
And that’s how it goes where there isn’t goodwill
So be kind to each other, don’t smile at loss
Spare a thought for your workers, or a thought for the boss
And watch the damned government like hawks, they’re not
For their vile quota system cut everyone off.


Last updated 27 April, 2006