The type of fishing weir in this poem is now rare on the Bay of Fundy, but years ago such weirs could be found at almost every village along the Fundy shore. A long “leader,” so called because it leads to a circular “pound,” stretches out from the shore into the Bay. Fish swim out with the tide, bump into the leader and follow it down to the pound, where they are trapped, since they don’t swim against tide flow. They are taken out by fisherfolk on foot. An image of a fishing weir of this type can be seen at http://bayoffundy.blogspot.ca/2007/06/bay-of-fundy-fish-weir-at-low-tide.html “Weir” was published in Galleon III: Fiction, Poetry, Book Reviews from Atlantic Canada and Beyond; ed. Lee D. Thompson; December, 2014.
The gulls swoop in, ravenous, mean. We kids scramble
barefoot up giant ladders: skinned-trees-turned-weir-poles,
cross-barred and braced, circling a pond of seawater
left by the outgoing tide. On a crossbar
nine feet above boulders, a boy spins somersaults.
Gulls land and take off, scream insults,
prise out small fish caught in the weir’s net. We mimic
the calls, cursing in gull. Salt stings where my scrapes
ooze red. Wind’s hard knuckles rub my eyes.
Long narrow net stretched between them, two weir men
sweep the pound below, herd mackerel toward
a dip-net wielder. He dumps them sparkling emerald
into burlap bags. Fog sneaks in when the tide turns,
bringing voices from boats waiting to make harbour.
Have one of mine—need a light? Our foghorn sounds,
one short blat every three minutes. Cold, colder. Kids
disappear into fog, up the cliff to supper. I clamber down,
see a flash of silver behind the sweepers. Salmon, I yell.
The men turn as a massive fish leaps high as their heads: Christ!
How’d we miss that monster? Where’d it go? Track it for us,
wouldja, kid? They look up to me, a girl.
Under the water’s heavy veil, the last fish in the pound
is swift shadow. My left arm lifts, traces its flight, my right a holdfast
gripping the crossbeam pole. Teeth chatter, eye strain. I point.
The sea is swallowing the fishermen’s green rubber legs, knee high,
thigh high. The salmon eludes the sweep net, slips under, skims
over. The men curse, plow back, begin the sweep again.
High in my tower on a salt-grey island, I am queen.
My men go where I point, fetch me treasure. Quicksilver,
the salmon rolls over directly under my perch.
Does it see my shadow waver through water and fog?
Does it know we mean death? My arm falters. I almost fall—
clutch and look down. Where rocks were, ocean gleams.
My mother’s voice: tricked by the tide, undertow, bodies
never found. Like the salmon, trapped. Where is it?
a fisherman demands, urgent. I am no longer playing.
Clumsy, shivering, I scramble toward safety. Got it! Jesus!
It’s gotta be eighteen pounds. I freeze, see thrashing silver-blue.
Maybe twenty! Laughter like metal. A grunt
as one of them hefts a boulder, smashes its head.
Thanks, kid. You did good
but I am running,
running barefoot over rocks. Three against one. Four.