Smoldering; Greenland Sleeper Shark
By: Paul Brooke
Ekki er sopi∂ káli∂ pótt í ausuna sé komi∂:
There’s many a slip between cup and lip.
Rust-orange and thin-skinned, the trawler,
long abandoned and beached, smoldered
like a dry cigarette in the heat, slowly
listing, inebriated, into gravel. Hull nearly
eaten clean by oxidants and sun, pockmarked
as if by aggressive cancer. Vulture gulls coated
the deck lab-coat white. The ship’s nets thrown
to shore long ago to smother wildflowers or trip
locals. The captain was a semi-liquid vent,
vodka-soured and odium-fueled, hell bent
on controlling his crew. Drank at the wheel.
Fed the mariners rancid puffin and minke meat.
Braggadocious, he was the best captain ever,
no man was more seaworthy or clever.
“No, that captain don’t pay twice as much. Swear.
Lies. Lies. His ship is puny, much smaller.
They don’t admire him. His crew is cracked.
I call bullshit. His fishing nets rarely packed.”
Woke them in the blackest black, from thin bunks
to slur orders, reinforce their idiocy, dead drunk.
After he passed out, they all snuck onto a dingy.
No wages, they said, are worth his rage. He’s stingy
and crafty, crappy and filthy. They landed ashore
to walk home, happy to escape his boorishness,
surprised their wives as they slipped into bed, cold.
When the captain awoke, his ship was aground,
a hole in the bow, engine hissing, crew missing.
Taking the pistol out, he thought suicide, resisting,
fingering the trigger. “I’ve ruined the lives
of my crew, their families, my ex-wife,
her family, my friends. My beautiful
ship is screwed, stuck forever, its hull
cracked, nothing much here to salvage.”
He lifted the bottle, studying the carnage,
climbed down, leaving the trawler to squat
in a wake of debris, diesel fuel and utter rot.
Greenland Sleeper Shark
I have seen people haul them aboard—drawn by the parasites
On their eyes—floored to think of hunting without sight,
Just vibration, feel; they are surprised by the milky rendering,
The copepod clinging like a desperate man outside a window.
I have seen people drunk on its meat, staggering to death,
Down blackened streets dimly lit by a fishhook of a moon.
Everyone warned them to be patient, wait for three cycles
Of thaw and freeze or wreak havoc like hydrochloric acid.
I have seen people fistfight and swear they are sea serpents
Surfacing for air, not sleepers, but sinister beings, hidden
Relics of prehistoric certitude. There is only what we hold,
What we see together, not wild conjecture, but simple truth.
I have seen people cleaning out their guts: polar bears, wolf
Fish, reindeer, and fur seals. Astonished, a creature of such
Slowness could capture such prey. Their mode is economy,
Carefulness, and ponderousness, pressed under glass.
I have seen small bits, marine snow, filter into the depths
From their circular twisting. Who knows what their torment
Feeds. But smaller beings wait in water as viscous as oil,
Filtering nutrition from nothing and right from unrighteous.
And I have seen the detritus of our code befoul my parents
And my brothers; it lurks for my nieces and my nephews;
It waits for them too, deep in their blood, waiting to toxify.
Paul Brooke’s poetry has been in such journals as the North American Review, The Antioch Review, Scientific American, International Poetry Review, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, and the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature and the Environment.
He is the author of five full-length poetry collections: Light and Matter: Photographs and Poems of Iowa (2008), Meditations on Egrets: Photographs and Poems of Sanibel (2010), Sirens and Seriemas: Photographs and Poems of the Amazon and Pantanal (2015), Arm Wrestling at the Iowa State Fair (2018), Jaguars of the Northern Pantanal: Panthera onca at the Meeting of the Waters (2020) and The Skáld and the Drukkin Tröllaukin (2022).
Dr. Brooke is a Professor of English Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he teaches Advanced Creative Writing, Introduction to Creative Writing, Environmental Literature and Literary Theory. He was trained as an undergraduate as an ornithologist and later completed his Bachelors and Masters at Iowa State University and his Ph.D. in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Behind the Scenes:
The poem, “Smoldering” is an allegory. It relates to my wife’s ex-husband and I modeled the captain of the trawler after him. Whenever something bad happens that’s his fault, he blames everyone, mostly his ex-wife and me. But everyone knows who is to blame. The whaler was actually run aground and now sits in West Iceland forever moored to the shore.
“Greenland Sleeper Shark” was me thinking through genetic links within my family. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 50 to 60 percent of alcoholism risk is based on our genetics. The shark’s flesh if not prepared properly can kill a person and it’s a horrible way to die. The person appears drunk due to the high levels of ammonia in the shark’s flesh; it must be properly fermented for it to be eaten safely. Greenland sleeper sharks (Somniosius microcephalus) are thought to live 200 or more years and travel at the lowest speed of any shark: cruising at 0.76 mph and hitting a top speed of 1.6 mph. They are among the least understood and known sharks in the ocean (Encyclopedia of Life).