Teresa Cader

Sea Otters, Missiles, Sardines
January 25, 2023 Cader Teresa


Monterey Bay, March 2022


Sea otters sun themselves on harbor rocks,
then dive
for mussels, lunch on their backs near kayaks,


while sails snap, a houseboat pivots, gulls shriek.
On my iPhone
patrols forage in rubble after a missile explodes


in the city whose name sticks on my tongue
the way
Buczkowice once did, my father’s Polish village,


where a Nazi missile hit our family house, missed
the porch
where he played in “The War to End All Wars.”


In canneries here in 1916, at all hours of the night,
immigrant men
unloaded nets of sardines and women sorted them,


standing for twelve hours in frigid bloody water,
feeding Europe’s
craze for those silver synchronized swimmers,


eaten with mustard, or tomatoes and white onions,
named for
the prized fish of fifteenth century Sardinia.


A swimmer floats near seals, pulled by the current,
no wet suit,
and the sun glazes the cold white-capped waves.


Two sea otters hold paws in the shallows, splash,
playful as Max,
Steinbeck’s dog who ate a draft of East of Eden.


He called the canneries a poem, a stink, a grating noise,
unlike the pitch-
drop music my daughter makes reading to me in Japanese.


She says an Ainu myth blames human imperfection
on a sea otter,
who went fishing instead of finishing God’s work.

Teresa Cader’s poetry collections include History of Hurricanes (2009), selected as a “Must Read” book by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, The Paper Wasp (1999), and Guests (1991), winner of The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award. She has been awarded two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and multiple honors and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe, MacDowell, the Poetry Society of America, and Bread Loaf. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Plume, Poetry, Harvard Review, On the Seawall, AGNI, Ploughshares, Harvard Magazine, and many other venues. Her work has been translated into Icelandic and Polish. She holds degrees from Wilson College, the University of Wisconsin, and Harvard University.