SEA OTTERS, MISSILES, SARDINES
Monterey Bay, March 2022
Sea otters sun themselves on harbor rocks,
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
Buczkowice once did, my father’s Polish village,
where a Nazi missile hit our family house, missed
where he played in “The War to End All Wars.”
In canneries here in 1916, at all hours of the night,
unloaded nets of sardines and women sorted them,
standing for twelve hours in frigid bloody water,
craze for those silver synchronized swimmers,
eaten with mustard, or tomatoes and white onions,
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.