Oct/Nov 2023  •   Poetry


by John Cullen

Public domain image


South of San Simeon, gulls dive
to nab crusts tourists toss.
We stopped to watch the usual
fishermen balance rods
for jigging, and some sport,
probably a real estate agent, Mustang
on the shoulder, boasted a Shimano.
A wharf rat we'd nicknamed
Robinson Jeffers crouched baggy
in plaid shorts and weathered stone
boonie, rolling his wheelchair.

Too early for sharks, a few kids
balanced the break rocks and cast
for perch, then pointed out
a lump drifting shoreward.
Morning news reported cranks
shot seals north of Cambria.
We expected a carcass
turned fish for another religion.
The boys snagged it, and the old man
fumbled his phone. He'd call the cops.
We nodded approval, satisfied
by the thought of some clod
ticketed, maybe dragged to jail.

We often watch seals slip waves,
bob and dive in the break, or surface,
water slick, whiskered, dark eyes
question marks. Turns out,
it was rubber, probably an inner
tube frayed but round enough.

You can't unhook
a snag; you can only play
the weight and gamble not to snap
the line. We've all done it, tangled
seagrass, kelp and bone, line
and bobber, half a beachball,
unintended consequences.
Jeffers sagged and clenched his fist,
his last chance for someone to pay
the penalty gone. We climbed
the break's margin to the layered
smells of sea. Gnawed perch, burger
wrapper, styrofoam, the world
bobbing in water, the red bill
of an Angels cap
wedged between rocks.