The Calling Sea

Una corriente extraña fluye através del océano Atlantico.
A veces mas fuerte que el viento. (Ponce de Leon, writing in 1513)
Under the morning mist of a tree,
a shady mahogany in a grocery parking lot,
the island’s only store, is where
a few old men meet, just as they met
many weekends before—going to sea.

Six and seventy plus, with bodies
bent, stiff and slow—one limps, one
bends his head too far left, another
holds a hand on his back, as if
releasing pressure of an office chair.

All wear baggy Colombia shirts,
the cooling cloth hanging free—
pastel colors of hibiscus, peach, powder blue.
One slathers on suntan lotion, but another
laughs—dude, it’s too late to worry.

Two are guys from up the East coast,
one’s retired from UPS, another’s an
ex-teacher of math, who bolted after 30.
The one with the Panama hat is “Cubano;”
Jorge arrived on a homemade boat when

he was eight. And the one wiping down
his sunshades, a “sansei,” ex-United
Pilot, who moved to Islamorada from California
after he lost his house in a summer fire.
Now, loading up sardines, plantain chips,

saltines, ice, and beer. Lingering,
chatting in the shade of a mahogany tree,
waiting for “Capitano José,” a little
late, but who finally squeaks up in his old
Ford pickup, hauling his 24” Key West

boat that seats just 5—stacked above,
a vertical row of rods and reels, pointing
up, lined along the Bimini top. Now,
as they load groceries into the boat,
Jorge wonders out loud: What fish

are running this week? Anybody heard?
What’s biting out near the 7-mile bridge?
As they settle in, and as the pick-up
pulls the boat away—the first one thinks:
Is this fishing a Sunday excuse? Look,

Just a hundred yards away, there laps
the ocean, and beyond, Sombrero Reef,
where we’ll fish three miles out. Now
we turn our eyes up when gulls and
pelicans swoop, and buzzards to boot.

Someone mumbles: We say we fish, but
why do I hear speaking in the waves?
Voices in the breakers that strangely call?
Some say all great bodies of water have
voices that call out to humans on shore,

but what voices? Those millions of ancient
sailors who went to sea to never return? Or
those deceptive sirens who wish to drown
Mariners? Or maybe, that mermaid sometimes
seen out near Sombrero reef? Let us pray

she waits to escort old fishermen when they
leave the reefs behind—speeding their boat
toward that hidden river in the ocean that will
sail them home—called the Gulf Stream.