Poetry by Alexandra Melville
Looking for work is like fishing
in over-fished waters
after the trawlers have been.
Pitch out line after line
in thin, black wire.
Sit, slouchingly taut, a hung sack,
with an ache across the blade bones
like a yoke,
a flat, dull ox bone
carved into art
by a Neolithic fisherman
waiting for Neolithic fish,
neat, gouged cuneiforms
to be excavated millennia later
by an archaeologist’s
Nothing bites and I
am not a patient person.
Some fish I am not allowed to catch.
They have been corralled
behind rings of bright buoys.
I cannot try for sea fish
when I have only caught fresh fish before.
I cannot catch small, nimble fish
when I have caught larger fish before.
I cannot learn to catch sea fish
until I have caught a sea fish.
I don’t know why the fish won’t bite.
The fish are silent and, due
to the volume of fishers,
are unable to provide feedback as to
why they won’t bite.
However, they thank you for the time
you have taken to fish for them.
Some fish do not even
acknowledge the fishing.
My parents ring, suggest
I go back to fishing where I used to fish.
I remind them why I came down to the sea.
I remember the puffer-fish I held
as a child, my head
crowding my brother’s head
the weight of that first fish,
the hushed thrill.
I know that sensation is still there.
They suggest I chuck in
some dynamite, that’s how
they found fish in their day.
I point out there are restrictions on fishing
nowadays, and the phone line feels
tight and biting.
My friends tell me about
fish they think I should catch,
including fish I already caught
and just didn’t tell anyone about
and now it’s as though I never
caught them at all
because there was no camera
to capture it.
I read about other fishers
blaming the EU for the fishing restrictions,
or the fishers who have come
from other places, even though this
is not why the fish won’t bite.
But I know why people
get scared of the fish shortage.
I know why they blame the wrong people.
Some parts of the coast now
only allow disadvantaged fishers to fish,
with mentors who help them to fish.
And I start to wish I
were allowed to fish there,
and I know I am wrong, that fishers
like me had the whole coast
to themselves for so long
but the fishing
is making me bitter.
I don’t even want to fish anymore.
Getting up to fish
with all the equipment,
the tackle, the fistful
of wet worms,
the spike through the middle,
is too hard.
I know I could just go back to the river.
I know I chose to come down to the sea.
I thread the rod;
I pitch out a line.