Monday, August 31, 2015

A Poem by Rick Hartwell


Scorpion of the Sea
(or of the North and Back Bay),
society of Sculpin
(camouflaged algae green, brown),
family Cottidae
(broad head, gristle gum, gaping maw),
saltwater bullhead
(prehistoric mien and manner, grotesquery),
labeled a trash fish
(horrific to the uninitiated and intimidated),
toxic dorsal spine
(a conjurer's spell to fright young fishermen).

At ten or eleven or twelve,
setting out for perch or smelt,
quicksilver flashes, lip snagged,
something worthy of a frying pan,
collectively a dinner, if not singly,
or the slow reeling of dark weight
until a halibut's quick pancake flip
presents pallid mouth and belly flesh.

Hooks baited with fillets of raw bacon,
oily aphrodisiac cast in polluted water,
we, angling from an eight-foot pram,
young Hemingways next to the docks,
catching bullheads in the north channel,
unhooking them with our bloody fingers,
as they'd attempt to breathe an atmosphere,
unfamiliar medium unsuited to their needs.

Once released, they'd disappear below,
residents of the shallows, no longer aliens,
yet soon caught again by insatiable appetite,
relieved occasionally by a wayward stingray,
another denizen of nightmares freed yet again,
as we played out this ritual day after day,
keenly expectant, as only the young can be:
our luck would change and we'd be fed instead.

Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher living in Southern California.  He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity.  Given his druthers, if he's not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.  He can be reached at

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