Curlew Background Image


by Dene Grigar

–– Crystal Blue Smell fish
Catsinas strides the shore while curlews call from above Curlew Island.
–– Hungry They smell fish, too Trout Missed them this morning
They must be running now, late
He squints looking far, hand over brow. No cumulus accumulating.
–– Southerly wind
Holds his finger out to touch it.
–– Southerly wind Good for fish, lots of trout now Where's that storm?

Into the waves chest-high he wades.
They break upon him.
He casts out to the light blue-green foam.
Mullet jettisoning up, flopping down into it.
The sucking feeling, the notsogentle pushing feeling of the waves.
Suck and push, suck and push as Catsinas casts into the sea.
Itchy salt clings to his skin through canvas pant legs.
His face ruddy-thick, also wet with salt water,
water that stings on lips, tasting clean, briny fresh.
He casts again.
A pull on the line, tugging soft.
Shimmery skin of fish-mouth full of orange tout.
Struggling, wanting off fast.
Catsinas lets him go, watches him disappear into the patina of the sea.

The sound of water.
Roars of crashing water beating against the brim,
water sucking the sand out to sea. Sucks away the shore.
––Grains going, never replaced.
Catsinas thinks as he casts.
He feels a jerk, jerking on the line.
The rod bows, and the line grows taut. He strains too, to see.
Flicker. Fish tail up.
–– Got him
Catsinas reels him in.
Reaches into the water and grabs him,
jabs him with the needle through his mouth.
Pushes him to the end of the stringer.
Fish wiggling trying to get away.
Rhythm is found between suck and push, casting out and reeling in.
Many more are caught, the stringer heavy with swimming fish.
They are not dead, but swimming nowhere, everywhere, confused.
They push their gills out, suck the oxygen in.
They try to swim away, pulling only against the man.
He pays them no attention,
but shuffles through the surf back to camp to gut them fast.

With a knife he gashes their gills and throats.
In a moment, no movement.
Their eyes cold as their blood on the wooden board.
Curlews hover above. Hungry harpies calling to Catsinas to feed them.
–– Quickly, quickly They cry
Catsinas tosses the entrails up to them. They are caught in mid-air.
–– Good girls Here's another
He throws again to the crying birds.
They grow strangely near, wanting more.
–– All gone
The fillets are for him, spoils for the victor.
Catsinas thinks about the disappearing sand and worries.
Puts meat to chill in the ice chest while fish blood dries upon the board.
He jabs the knife blade into the wood and glances at the wheelbarrow,
turned up against the shack.
––More loads today


Behind the shack he finds his shovel.
Throws it across the wheelbarrow.
Metal against metal, shovel into wheelbarrow.
–– Dig over there
He pushes. Wheels spin up sand,
white sand squishing against rubber wheels.
He pushes hard against the sand, then stops to wipe his wet hot face.
–– No shade, clouds Where is that storm, the rain Hot
Slips the shovel through the sand.
Lifts and heaps, lifts and heaps. Wipes his face,
then lifts and heaps until the wheelbarrow is full.
Thrusts the shovel into the sand.
It stands straight for a moment,
then slowly slowly very slowly falls in front of the wheelbarrow.
Catsinas kicks it from the wheel,
pushes hard the wheelbarrow through the sand, pushes hard to shore.
Then turns the wheelbarrow up, and sand slips out. Gives a shake and kicks it empty.
He goes again, back and forth. Each time pushing harder.
–– Hot Not young anymore Tired
The curlews follow him overhead, screaming
–– More food Hungry
He pays them no attention.
Accumulating cumulus of curlews,
they fly back and forth, crying louder.
He makes the final trip and drops the load on the shore.
Pausing with hand over brow,
he watches the water lapping at the new sand.
–– Where would I go if Curlew goes?

From the ice chest he takes a beer.
It drips on his canvas pants, cold wet against hot.
Popping, foaming, overflowing to sand.
Catsinas lifts silver can to salty mouth, gulping first only foam.
Then, taking a match from the jar, he lights the stove.
It puffs loudly, then burns. Hotter now.
Fish frying in crackling grease.
The smell: salty grease, briny freshness, sizzling to brown.
Trout is tossed with the spatula onto his plate.
He grabs the saltines and another beer.
Eats and drinks quickly the greasy good.
–– Tastes good, sleepy Need a nap Sleep for a while, too hot to work
He splashes the pan and dish into the gulf.
They are made clean, shaken dry, shiny,
but grease hangs in the blue-green sea foam.
He lays the plate and fork down on the ice chest,
crushes the beer cans and tosses them by the door of the shack.
–– Get em later
Out to the gulf, he glances back. Clouds now in the distance.
Wisps first, then puffs, then storm.
–– Good Too hot
He slips inside the salty shack to sleep.


Catsinas dreams of his father. Rolls on the bedroll, mumbling
–– Poppa?
He thinks the old man's name
–– Poppa?
A figure limps to him, shuffling a cane.
Icy cold fish eyes stare out of the man's face. He speaks
–– Nicko
He calls a little boy's name to the sleeping man.
Jabs at the sleeping man with the cane
–– There's a storm, but I am here
–– Poppa?
A mist of sea foam separates the old man from the sleeping man.
Catsinas tosses to his side.
–– Nick, I see you Can't you see me Hear me Listen, don't turn away I know you're angry at me but I only wanted you to turn out good So different from the other boys Had to be harder on you It took a lot for you to turn out good
Turning again on the cot,
the sleeping man the sleeping boy replies to the voice,
–– So angry for so long, so angry Left you Left the farm Left my wife, my kids Leaving always, Wanting to be free Come here to Curlew You find me now with your fish eyes Why come now?
For a moment, no movement.
The old man only stares. There is no kindness in his face.
None ever there, not even now.
Dangling his cane over Catsinas, he says
–– Come to close the door, to tell you Bad storm coming
He drags himself out slowly slowly very slowly.
Outside he goes, disappearing behind the shabby wooden door.
Shutting it, leaving the sleeping boy sleeping man jerking awake.
–– What is that?
The shack, dark. Birds are silent, but not silent the storm outside.
–– Something
Catsinas leaps up.
–– Poppa? No, just wind, a dream


He pushes open the door.
Outside the clouds swell blackness,
swimming nowhere, everywhere, confused.
The boat heaves in the water against the taut line, whirling around.
Catsinas eyes the cans rolling across the sand,
sand kicked up by the wind, eddies of whirling sand.
He grabs his rod knocked over by the wind.
The storm sucking and pushing him, sucking and pushing everything.
Currents of wind growing stronger, sucking the sand out to sea.
Loads of sand gone now.
Into the shack he pulls the ice chest.
The stove, the sandy pan, the dish. Shovel.
–– Wheelbarrow won't fit
He yells at no one, himself, it.
Hurrying quickly, quickly, he leaves it wedged in sand.
All is inside, almost.
The boat pulls and pushes against the anchor, trying to tug free.
Catsinas sits hoping.
On the salty blanket, he waits the storm's end.
Waiting while Curlew washes away slowly slowly very slowly.
The tired man asks himself again
–– Where would I go if Curlew goes?