Ships vs. Shops

The Iowa Review - - THE IOWA REVIEW - Bill Carty

When the net comes aboard it is mostly trash, mostly small sharks fin-flapped, tails strug­gling vis-à-vis our strat­a­gem. The net is passed over­head, litter-like. Stiff rope and ra­dio crackle. The light’s askew. Light is a small dis­tur­bance on the sea and the white flash is a gull. I find fif­teen wings at the high-wa­ter mark. I find no fish and one owl. Wa­ter rushes from the deck, cod slide across the metal. Then the ma­chete, then fish heads buoyed in wake.

Now let’s reckon with re­tail. The mu­seum used to be the main cube. Now the store’s the cube. The mu­seum used to be on dis­play but now we pa­rade our pur­chases. We show off that we’re brows­ing. Of­ten brows­ing is enough. To en­ter the cube is to re­veal your taste (it’s ex­cep­tional). Taste changes peo­ple and to prac­tice taste is to wish to be changed. We lower a net in the dark and dis­cover

the net hauls a new ship. It is just the right size. The crew fits per­fectly. The new ship’s old crew, the dead crew, there’s no sign of them. There are some rays in the hull with their fins sliced off, and where there’s blood, gulls. Gulls, you are wel­come! That’s how I take the bell’s ring as the screen door swings: here is a tune, please empty your pock­ets. The shop­keeper heads home to shower. He is call­ing it a day. There is a shower on the ship too. There is much vis­i­ble ink, many Celtic crosses.

Let’s be hon­est about the bounty. Re­mem­ber how you en­coun­tered a squid? It wasn’t aswim; it was for sale. At the deli counter, or in the dark, the cap­tain can hardly see be­yond his re­flec­tion. Night is the one-eyed mask taunt­ing Odysseus, “Swindler!” That he was a mariner can’t be de­nied. And I haven’t even men­tioned the sail/sale thing.

I’m on a ship read­ing about the ship. I’m at the store look­ing for a new mon­i­tor. The sam­ple screen shows a man on a ship watch­ing a show about a ship. I’m in the shop watch­ing the ship-watch­ing cap­tain. Gulls float up­side down at the bot­tom of the screen. I swim through a gar­den of jel­ly­fish blooms. I drown not know­ing which way is up. Then comes the low­er­ing of the big chain cur­tain. This is how we haul the catch. This is how we pre­vent the theft.

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