From small-fry to fingerling,
Then a pinked & punk juvenile,
Delinquent high-school beauty
& beauty-school dropout—
I was up-a-crick,
Crying a river there.
Fingering my ticket out of the sticks,
With a wad of gas money saved up,
I fishtailed my finned, old boat of a
Cadillac out of The Dalles & down
The Columbia River Highway.
Child’s play! Circus runaway!
I fish-laddered downriver,
Past all the damn sluice-gates,
& floated to the big city,
Where I parked it
In Portland. Washed up, & out
On the town, I lolled around
Burnside Bridge with the other runaways.
Started putting out,
Pouty-mouthed—my one-night stands’
Mad-money was fare for space
On a cargo ship shipping out
South Seas’ way.
Crew saw me as a mermaid-type who,
Hooked, & a sort-of hooker,
Could serve as an honorary prow ornament
When I was not spit-shining their boots.
My maiden voyage: sick
In transit, I dished
At the captain’s table, posing
As a starlet Venus on the half-shell.
& Captain, Oh my! That petty officer!
He flipped for me, I flip-flopped,
Naked in his grasp, gasping for breath.
Not the pleasure cruise I’d dreamed of.
Up top & running, I decked all hands.
Shift-less & skiff-less, I was bounty, mutineering.
Pit of stomach a cairn, I life-jacketed myself,
Praying, Preserve me!
Didn’t want to be the pearl
Setting in some Davy’s locket,
Though fantasy bridal veils had
Always been a downfall.
I wanted to be the one that got away.
But he set his jib for me,
& I jumped ship, panty-less.
Hope of Water, water, everywhere
Turned to teardrops in the drink,
While I rued that old salt what rimmed me.
Knocked-up & -about,
I was pirated, booty;
Captain-hooked and –cooked,
Trying to fathom my girlishly-figured,
Swimming a gauntlet of an inlet,
I survived a survival-of-the-fittest
Hawaiian Punch-drunk &
Bobbing, I did the dead-girl float
Green around the gills,
Then went aground.
I beached, wailing.
Islanded, I soloed: No man is land.
Or is crash stranding.
Cried me a kettle of fish,
When I found I couldn’t get by on looks
Where were the Friday to my Tuesday
Weld? Ginger’s supporting cast-aways?
I powdered my nose
With the atoll’s white phosphorous,
& my mind was its land mine:
In iridescent make-up,
I vowed I’d give myself in trade
To escape the Pauline peril
I’d got into.
I was waving-&-drowning!—wishing
Myself back in the home waters
I’d left to better my fishy selfishness.
Bare-assed, I flashed the rocket-red
Nipples which stippled out of my toplessness
(Which the sun never set upon)
& the curvy beach of my belly
Already great with the seaman’s
A cutter passed; like of
Its scurvy squalor not seen since
The scrawny conscripts
In her hold were white-as-cotton swabs
For whom I scratched a bad itch.
Borne aboard—their booby-prize—,
Pregnant with fished-up, deep-sea wonder,
I let them bore me all the way back to waters
Smelled like home.
We entered the mouth of the Columbia
At Astoria, chugged on up
To the Port of Portland.
I ran to ground & kissed it fish-lipped.
My sea legs failed me, swimmingly.
I minced along, crabby & bloated.
The sailors & I flipped out all the way
To the paymaster,
& I blanched a little, pocketing their
Bye-bye baby gifts of silver spoons
& onesies for my coming little snappers.
The cock-hatted sailors collared me
For mushy kisses I permitted
As their dismissal.
I sprang my barge of a Caddy out of
Its parking-lot dry-dock,
Then whip-tailed upstream,
Coasting into Hood River.
Gunned it to get home to
The berth I hadn’t booked well, back when.
Felt foreboding at a
Marina® Welcome Home!
Sign at the landing. The annual
Salmon Festival was on. They went & named me
Salmon Queen because they’d missed me.
My at-sea time,
That ocean-going & return?—
A sea-shanty I’d reenacted,
Running away in the shanghaied vessel
I was. Only to find myself
Home-sickly, a dull copper spectacle
Hungry & spent.
Guys from high school
Followed me around,
& maybe had tailed me all along, circling
In my wake. At it.
Milt they exuded spread
Through the water like dew
On the redd where I nested—
Spending on the prodigal.
I brooded in my puddle of shallow
Hollowing out nest after nest
For my cosmopolitan spawn.
Rainspatter’s water-colored light
Guttered, & I exhausted
My natural resources in the pooling dusk.
My turned-up eye
Reflects sky-s salmon-skin colors.
I’m an escape hatch-
ery for the eons of homecoming queens
I would egg on.