The Shrimper’s New Wife
~This poem previously appeared in Poet Lore (2002).
For months I’d go to the docks after work
to see the shrimp boats come in at low tide,
their outriggers balancing and diesel engines humming.
On the Southern Sylkie there was one
particular man, a striker.
He was redheaded and red-chested.
I’d watch him hold the door ropes taut,
the sugarline still out. One day I felt my legs stiffen.
Something in my heart, too long underwater,
began to soften.
I watched the solid curve of his shoulders
as he loosened the bag knots and spooled
in the nets. Flecks of fin and scale
refracted light onto his face.
He sifted the catch, then shoveled
back the rest. The gulls, pelicans, and terns
spun in their ravenous dance.
Now each day he comes home at dusk,
tosses gear and deck boots on the floor.
I open my dress to his rough hands.
He pulls me toward him, to the wave
he carries within his body,
through that other ocean and toward that other dock—
the one I’ve been missing.
Triple X Libris
~This poem previously appeared in Ink Pot (2005).
after Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry”
What if the librarian really likes it
when the poet gets on his knees
and licks her hand?
What if she's not afraid
when the dogs climb up the stairs
on their golden fours?
Yes, her eyes are a bit sad
but feverish too.
Excuse me, please, she says,
but these items are long overdue.
You'll have to pay a fine,
or maybe we can find or make
some other special arrangement.
Perhaps you could come home
with me. Hush, hush,
let's hear a story
and shall we do it
Dewey decimal style?
Arrange and rearrange our bodies
over and over again—
books without covers, their ink
running down our mouths,
our legs, our hands?
When the sun screams through the window,
we'll drink coffee.
Devour poetry for breakfast too.
THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS
For several years I lived and worked in coastal Georgia. Both my home and workplace were less than a quarter mile from where the shrimp boats docked. Everywhere there was the smell of brine, shellfish, and diesel. Often at the end of the day I would go to the dock and watch the shrimpers offload their hauls. I was fortunate to take part in the production of a television documentary about the shrimping industry in the state, and during that time I was able to travel on a working shrimp boat and become immersed in the dense, melodious, complex , and sensual language of shrimpers. “The Shrimper’s New Wife” grows out of my love of their workaday conversations.
“Triple X Libris” is a direct response to Mark Strand’s poem, “Eating Poetry.” I am a longtime fan of Strand’s work, but I found that I resisted his portrayal of a librarian—or the librarian sterotype— in this particular poem. A few years ago I heard Strand read at Emory University and had the lucky opportunity to share my poem with him. He emailed me later with a lovely note and wrote, “Anytime you want to eat some poetry together, let me know.” I was delighted.
ABOUT CHERYL STILES
Cheryl Stiles has published numerous poems, essays, and reviews in journals such as Poet Lore, 32 Poems, The Atlanta Review, Storysouth, SLANT, Plainsongs, Southern Women’s Review, and POEM. Her work has received the Agnes Scott Literary Festival Prize and a Pushcart nomination. She works as a university librarian in Atlanta and is completing a doctoral degree in English at Georgia State University. In 2005 she started La Vita Poetica Press, a small press devoted to producing limited-edition, handcrafted chapbooks. You can read more about her and her work at http://works.bepress.com/cheryl_stiles/