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  • Surface Fugue:Clark's Island, Wampanoag Bowl, Carcharodon Carcharias
  • Ralph Sneeden (bio)

           —but I sawToo far into the sea, where every mawThe greater on the less feeds evermore;But I saw too distinct into the coreOf an eternal fierce destruction …

—John Keats, from a letter to J. H. Reynolds, March 25, 1818


There are no good synonyms for predator, really,only names.        I used to think the storyabove sea level is always changing, alwaysinvisible from underneath. You wouldn't have seenthe empty wetus, skeletal domes,                silencesof plague,    or, now,            these landlocked squabbles betweenthe soon to be        decommissioned nuke and turbines,floral, sword-strokes of their stiff petals cashingin on Plymouth's stiff offshore.                But fishknow the shapes they did back then:                mishoon,then shallop (Clark tacking the bay, shakingoff December squalls). A boat from belowis under-        belly, apex, maybe mammalian.

                Herdinghorizons of pogies, the bass gorge in summer, [End Page 169] inscribe with appetite their platinum ceiling aroundmy skiff.    Among the boulders, almost bouldersthemselves, "horsehead" seals, shoulder deep,congregate, suspicious elders eyeing my idling,forehead to temple with gossip,                prayers. Maybethe propeller's rip and growl, the lingering wake'sunnatural    slaps to their faces,            or a glimpse of hullthat trips    their blood's alert, survivalist wiringgetting the drift        of some intention of teeth,some pending penetration of colony, ballistic,through gathering clouds            of bunker.

                A wave's wallis the surface        on its side. I rememberdragging a hand along it, as if to reachthrough to seals on the other side surfingside-by-side        with me. We were poorimitations in adjacent rooms, notreflections. And to call them shadows won'tcapture the braid of flippers and snouts definedbeyond my board's rail.            The beach was a riverof white blowing sand, the water almostashen, and swells ahead of the hurricane arrivedthrough fog. The seals were hunting.                Something,probably, hunted them. And I was therefor fun.


    Whatever name the locals hadfor the island is someone else's            memory of going [End Page 170] there, scuttled dugout, ferry of languagesunk somewhere between the Algonquin monponsett,"at the deep clear space," and munponsett,Wampanoag for "island            crossing place,"                distinctionsextinguished like bootprint and rudder-rut in sand,shifty as Saquish across the strait, that current-jimmied door left open, breach thatlet them in.

        In the foyer of the HistoricalSociety is the property of Metacom,                a manthey called King Philip: a vessel hewnfrom burl—elm's deformity—hollowed bulbof knots, cross-purposes            of branch and trunk,with holes bored through the rim to loopa leather thong he'd cinch around his waistfor wading lowbush blueberry, prizing quahogslike easy confessions from the mud, or shimbetween his knees for eating samp.                The newstewards stuffed it with ballots, decisions madeto keep their inheritance safe, from tool to trophy,practicality to objet:            Don't mistake itfor a relic, holy and incarcerated in its cubeof glass, like a saint's purported mold and rags.

I understand a nation            and cultureare not at stake if someone kicks inmy door, murders me and my wife, stealsmy favorite coffee cup or maple bowlfor salad (the only wedding gift                we kept),dropped by children eager to help and seasonedby the rule of never using soap,                decadesof oil, anchovies, garlic, avocado slush,dinner after family dinner protectedin the house of its grain. [End Page 171]


            In the Seychelles,the giant trevally flies, swims fastenough to leave the sea and wolf the flyingtern.        Here, girls snapping picturesof seals said the shark launched them upward,vanished. They were out here                flailingfor capsized kayaks, fifteen minutes, fifteen-foot animal beneath maybe banginga U-ey for another go,            morelikely repelled by texture, acrid tasteof modernity. In the news clip ("I sawfour feet of its head …"), they're almost giddywith the privilege of being                hit, giddy withsurvival.

    When the tide nabs me, enginecut, past Bug Light...


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