You never knew the price we'd be paid
with the tide smoking past us at seven knots
jerking the buoy lines tighter,
and Aretha chanting Chain of Fools
from the gurry-streaked deck speakers
when we tied up to deliver our fish.
You had so much to think about:
fish cops, boat payments, fuel costs, time,
while the salmon brailers swung across deck
trailing thick strands of fish blood into the mist
and the washdown hose blasted our fish holds
loosening broken-off gill plates and scales.
How many times you lifted us into the tender's
floating stage, smelling of diesel and tar.
We drifted the western edge of the continent,
a mile offshore, invisible in the darkness,
while somewhere beyond the pocked skin
of the tundra you knew the aqua-farmed salmon
were swimming through their own waste
swallowing dog food and antibiotics.
Overhead the Dow Jones computers sang
through the frozen latitudes
and we listened to the hydraulics groan
passing the bloodstained bags of new silver
from one rusted hull to the next
over the slate-colored waves.
Joseph Millar's first collection, Overtime (2001) was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. A second collection, Fortune, appeared in 2007, and a third, Blue Rust, is due out this fall (2011) from Carnegie-Mellon. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Johns Hopkins University, and spent 25 years in the San Francisco Bay area working at a variety of jobs, from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. It would be two decades before he returned to poetry. His poems stark, clean, unsparing record the narrative of a life fully lived among fathers, sons, brothers, daughters, weddings and divorces, men and women.
His work has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2008 Pushcart Prize and has appeared in such magazines as DoubleTake, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, APR, and Ploughshares. In 1997, he gave up his job as telephone installation foreman to try his hand at teaching. After five years at Oregon State University, Millar now teaches at Pacific University's Low Residency MFA and lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.