Thursday Sep 28

BeckerRobin Robin Becker, Liberal Arts Research Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Penn State,  has published five books in the Pitt Poetry Series, most recently Tiger Heron (2014). Becker has served as final judge for poetry competitions including the John Ciardi Prize, New Letters Poetry Prize, the Benjamin Saltman Book Award, the Prairie Schooner Book Award, Idaho Prize, and, in 2015, the PEN New England Award for Poetry. Becker writes the poetry column “Field Notes” for the Women’s Review of Books where she serves as Contributing and Poetry Editor.

Bluefish, 1970

My first summer in P-town neighbors taught me Putanesca
oil capers olives marinating fish in the tiny kitchen
of the 3-bay half cottage I rented with my
unemployment check blocks off Commercial
Street where the drag queens called hello dolly
and bluefish sold for $3.99 lb all summer

At Race Point fisherman anchored in wet sand fought
the indigo wind the inky surf bluefish on their lines and
in coolers and in the A & P where I stared at the handsome
butch women with their girlfriends in town for a week
from Kansas and Ohio desire thrumming the narrow
streets and the clamorous angles of Provincetown’s

rooftops desire incoming as the tide I read and wrote
by day and thereby earned my nightly trip to the women’s bar
to disco to cigarettes and the compulsive disappointment of leaving
alone at 2AM for home past revelers sharing pizza at Spiritus
you never know what the senses will retain just last week
at the market I overheard look they have bluefish today

Taken into Account

How to account for the lacerated hands
of the enslaved, 15-year-old Cambodian deckhands

whose infections come from the gills of the fish
they sort and the nets they sew, eighteen hours a day, fishing

in floating labor camps the waters off Thailand
to supply the Songla Canning Public Company of Thailand?

And how to account for the bribes of the desperate trafficker—
whose own sons roam in rags the streets of Bangkok traffic—

whose promises to guide the migrant boys to decent jobs disappear
inside the shipping crate, where boys, stashed for days, are disappeared.

…to get tangled in the mesh and yanked underwater, it is
likely that no one would notice right away. The work is

frenzied and loud, as the boys chant in unison while pulling the nets.
And how does one account for the captain, who must net

more and more kidnapped migrants, as some jump overboard or die
from beatings or try to escape to other ships rather than die

in darkness, casting at night a seine net, barefoot, on the slick deck?
And what of unmoored winches and tackle, sliding across the deck

to fracture a femur or rip into a thin thigh? On the South China Sea
you belong to the captain. No laws protect you when no one can see.

(Italicized lines come from “‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015.) 

On the Grand Canal

In doublet with hanging sleeves
I dressed for the masquerade
at the palace but never arrived,
because another Venetian experience

required getting lost at night
on narrow streets and feeling a frisson
of fear and genuine, erotic danger.
For my bohemian, Peggy Guggenheim

experience, I stepped from the water taxi
into modernism, into the gift shop—
an unburdening of an epic
discharge of traveler’s checks.

In Santa Maria della Pieta, I learned
I belonged to the Baroque—
more rotund red priest in hose
and wig at the clavichord

than trim expatriate socialite,
though I could imagine feeling
like someone whose father went
down with the Titanic.