Monday, February 28, 2011

East Of The Light

A Big Chief Tablet Tale
by The Legendary Jim Parks

Rudy saluted Bubba when he came out of the water after he
had lashed the ends of the purse seine back together in a
circle and we waited for the fish to gill off in it, to
become packed in the mesh in their panic..

He stripped and stood in a jock, staring into the sun
overhead, balanced on the rail outside the pilot house. His
hair looked blue, so black and glossy in the sun, his brown
Caribe skin sweating. He fought the grin that kept
threatening to capture his face, to make him burst into a long
series of giggles.

With a flash of white teeth, he shouted "Chingada!" and dove
into the ultramarine blue water beside the net where the
bull sharks had been eating in a frenzy, chopping up the
fish who were caught, tearing holes in the mesh, making the
water foam with a froth of reddish blood soon fading to
brown and dissipating to a green tinge in the warmth of the

The stream comes closer to the mainland U.S. there than
anywhere else - less than a mile.

It's not like that in the Keys, where there are chains of coral
reefs and islands. This is a huge limestone peninsula
washed by the warm water out of Africa and the Caribbean,
bound for the British Isles and the European continent,
thence back to the tropics.

In the stream, there are game fish and schools of mackerel,
tuna, jack, all competing for the needle fish, anchovy,
squid. You can see them from above - a thousand feet - a
shadowy gray stream within the deep blue stream, moving
along in a frenzy of feeding.

The boats work with airplane pilots who radio to let them
know where they are jumping at baits shoved to the surface
and sometimes out into the air. Everything moves briskly in
the stream, at about six knots, to the northeast.

As Rudy jumped, Hector shouted "Ai! Cojones!"

Bubba stood transfixed, watching as Rudy splashed back to
the side of the boat and climbed the rope ladder dangling
over the side.

He pulled Rudy's arm, boosting him back over the gunwale in
the crisp December air. They stood beaming at each other
for a moment, then they embraced, laughing.

"It is necessary, no, cabron? It is necessary," Rudy said.

Bubba grabbed him again and they hugged, taking each others'
crucifixes between thumb and forefingers and kissing them,
slapping each other on the back repeatedly.

Simultaneously, almost whimsically, they spit into the ocean
where the bull sharks still chewed at the net, the fish
blood foaming, the dorsal fins working it all into a froth.

Then they both put their clothes back on while the rest of
the crew slammed batten boards on the deck to panic the fish
in the water beneath her keel, to make them try to swim out
of the encircling pursed seine.

We drifted along to the northeast until the pilot in the
little 150 buzzed us and we started to feed the foot ropes
over the dishpan winches overhead, faking the loaded seine
down on deck, shoveling ice over the fish in layers, faking
another layer, then more ice, finally tarping the whole load
and heading for the inlet and the fish house, the twin V-8
turbo Detroit diesels singing in the engine compartment
under the fiberglass deck, the hull struggling to plane in
front of the propulsion nozzles proven in the shallow waters
of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil.

We headed back through the inlet, ignoring the other boats
stopped by Customs and the Marine Patrol, Coast Guard. It
was not our fate today.

Only we knew what lay beneath the stinking mass of fish and

It would be a long night and a longer day after.

We were heading home. We were East of the light. That
meant sewing up huge holes in the mesh, holes chewed by bull
sharks in a frenzy of feeding upon helpless Spanish mackerel
in the deep blue waters over the marl where tons and tons of
gold and silver and cannon and bronze nails lay at rest
after endless northeasters that blew it all to smithereens
long, long ago.

Cojones. Yes, cojones.


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