He walks backward across the deck
pulling the rake, working it up and down,
then brings up the rakehead
and empties it on the cullrack.

This gray rubber ball
is a sea cucumber. And this,
a scungili—they eat the seed clams,
next year’s catch, shell and all.
A square blue bottle, medicinal,
some Yakov’s magic elixir.
He has a collection of old bottles,
and clay pipes, just the bowls,
dropped in the bay by Englishmen
two hundred years ago.

There are three littleneck clams
and a cherrystone. He puts the "necks"
in a red net bag. The cherrystone
on the deck, to one side.

 

 

*



A bag of littlenecks, one hundred pounds,
fetches sixty-five dollars in today’s market.
Not exactly the wealth of the Indies.
And the rake handle sections get pitted
and have to be replaced,
and the rakehead twice a year.


Five years ago, many of the guys
left the bay—they couldn’t make a living.
But he stuck it out. He’s been a bayman
twenty-seven years, taking time out
for the army and a tour in Vietnam.
He couldn’t wait to get back to the bay.

 

His wife understands—he couldn’t do it
without her. Rita has a part-time job.
They own the house, and never buy anything
on time … never had a new car.
You have to stay away from monthly payments.
There are months, in winter, you don’t catch

 

anything.
 

*


It can get pretty hairy
when the temperature goes down
and there’s a wind from the northwest.

The gulls circle squawking.
One will light and stand there all day,
but not if there’s a second person.
It’s not that they’re anti-social,
but they don’t like dealing with the public.

One winter he lent a hand
in his brother’s catering business
when one of the drivers took sick.
The longest two weeks of his life.

Over there is Blue Point, where the oysters
used to be. The salinity killed them.
Clams too are harder to find.

But to spend all your time figuring
how to make more money …
                                                       What for?

Louis Simpson

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 10 Number 8, on page 38
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