(All four poems first appeared in Poem, Huntsville Literary Association, No. 86, 2001; and are also in The Soup of Something Missing.)
Everyone told him he was crazy:
the boat’s own weight would shatter it in the harbor
or the first swell the size of a tall man
would break the bow as its face slid down the windward side.
If his glass boat survived long enough to catch
a large fish surely the thrashing strength of dying muscle
would smash the boat like a dinner plate flung into a fireplace.
That was thirty-one years ago.
Now he only fishes when the late afternoon sun
slides beneath the hull,
flooding the boat with a silver light.
On the voyage home he stares
through the glass bottom
at the darkening ocean,
the resting place of every drowned man.
Standing on the deck, surrounded by dying fish and ocean,
he looks like a man walking on water.
Sunlight flattening across the bow confirms
it’s glass, not faith that he pilots to the harbor.
He once broke a leg; one foot on the deck,
the other on the dock as a swell lifted the boat.
Another fisherman set the injury in wooden planks
and newspapers wrapped with old netting.
For the next sixteen days he lived in a public house
above the fuel dock. His wife worked the boat.
The fish didn’t know the difference,
not even when she shoved her fingers in a mouth
to pull one from seaweed tangled on the propellers,
nor did the ocean looking through the glass bow
when she tied her long skirt around her waist
to keep fish guts from knotting the lace hem.
The differences between the fog, an ocean
and a glass boat are indistinguishable.
A fisherman on an approaching boat could see
the weather and nothing else until he notices
the dark smudge in the gray. At first he believes
it’s the church at sea priests spoke of,
a soul’s life preserver rescuing it from the weight of flesh.
His belief is like candles stocked for stormy nights.
Coming closer, the glass boat becomes clear,
forcing the approaching boat to turn away.
steam from his coffee rise, pleased
by the way it becomes the weather.
The fisherman’s wife looks at the glass boat
from the dock and sees only the ocean’s
heave and sigh and calls it Grief.
The fisherman looks down at the glass deck
and sees only the vein-like currents and skeletons
knotted in sunken ships and calls it Faith.
Fish make names, too, names with long sounds,
familiar noises inside a shell or a hand
rubbing the three-day stubble on a tired face.
When fish look up at the glass boat they see heaven;
and hear its sound, net descending into ocean.
No seagulls follow it on the journey home,
just the foamy wake growing from the stern,
furrows of a freshly-plowed field.