Thomas Piekarski

 
Distilled

 

The Ocean Angel, a WWII vintage             

copiously welded steel ship                         

creaks, seesaws side to side,

hundreds of yards of black nylon

fishing net rolled up

on its scrubbed deck.

Built to hold mega tonnage

it vies daily with dozens of boats 

over a limited catch,

for Monterey Bay is in the main 

adamantly preserved but

overfished.

 

******

 

A coquettish New Zealand lass

sits down beside me on a bench

behind the whale watching 

ticket booth near wharf’s end.

She has bright painted red lips

and dolefully crooked front teeth.

She pulls a brown journal

from her knapsack to make

periodic short entries.

When I ask what she’s writing

she confides she’s in the midst

of her first screenplay, and then

applies tanning lotion

to raw exposed Betty Grable 

legs. And as if to conceal

squinty liquid eyes

she slips on a pair of intrepid

sunglasses.

 

******

 

The Japanese responsible

for launching what became

a robust abalone trade

from their village at Point Lobos.

This had the effect of propelling

a highly profitable, immense

fishing industry. 

 

******

 

At first I thought it a monstrosity:

all those pipes popped up during

construction inside a fenced-off hole

dug smack in the middle of

Steinbeck Plaza,

a blight to spoil

panoramic ocean views

where the fast-paced spray paint artist

turns out mesmerizing cosmic scenes,

a place where rare stone necklaces,

sterling orca and shark pendants

are vended.

 

******

 

One sordid day in 1770

usurper Gaspar de Portola

seized Monterey,

a city that had withstood

many a siege, declaring it

by imperial provenance

Spain’s.

 

******

 

A green and white vessel that looks

a little like a tugboat has a huge

amber halogen beam bolted

above its mast as it put-puts

its way toward a placid harbor,

perhaps signaling an alert.

On the far side of the bay

on this brilliant, brisk summer day

a yacht zooms southward toward

Seaside. It hugs the shore —

lickity-split or bust for that

sleek entrepreneur.

 

******

 

Everything defines itself.

Robert Louis Stevenson drafts

Treasure Island in his mind

upon these selfsame

disproportionate steps.

 

******

 

Watch out for seagull guano

such as coats the aquarium roof

and several others along the Row.

A splat may at random

come splashing on your head or

shoulder.

 

******

 

A skinny lad inquires as to 

the location of Crab Louie’s Bistro.

He seeks a fit place to feast, and wants

to know if the Bistro is up to snuff.

I’m a bit gruff. I haven’t eaten there,

I say, but would certainly shy away

from Abalonettis and their 

blah calamari. I confide 

that I much prefer Hula’s Island Grill

or the rustic Santa Lucia Cafe 

over sky-high priced fish dishes

purveyed hereabouts.

 

******

 

The Japanese divers plunged

in stifling brass helmets,

weighted down, harnessed

with suits heavy as coats of mail

and armor combined. 

They plucked abalone at the bottom

of relatively shallow waters

and plunked them into iron buckets

in the shadows of indigenous Indians 

who had for centuries scooped them from

tidepools.

 

******

 

Ocean Angel creaks and squeals,

crackling, croaks, tugs tough ropes,

tied to the old wooden pier.

The ship’s a bully, rips as it rocks,

the ruptured ropes jerking pier posts,

exacting shakes and sharpest

jolts.

 

******

 

Methodists who settled Pacific Grove

lived as if in catacombs

of an utterly destitute and obsolete

faith. They tolerated the Japanese

but detested continual stench

that emanated from the Chinese camp.

When the massive ’06 quake struck

San Francisco Chinatown

was nearly demolished. The “chinks”

rushed to Monterey, flooding the camp.

“Enough!” the Methodists growled.

And then one stark dark night

they burned that camp to nothing but

stinky ash.

 

******

 

Sound warnings: “Observe sea lions

from a safe distance. Marine mammals

are wild animals and can be dangerous.”

And “ Unstable rocks—slipping, falling,

crushing hazards.”

 

******

 

Vacationers tote cameras, roll strollers, merge

en masse.

 

******

 

The purposely portly greeter in front

of Cafe Fina points upward and exclaims

“look what’s coming!” I do look up

and spot about 75 feet above

the bubbling wharf a radio controlled

plane shaped like a spider, whirring

toward us. It makes a mad rush

in the air straight down the middle

of the wharf, stoking gulls, crazy

as they crisscross, zigzag wildly,

their frantic squawks a sure sign that

they’re impaired.

 

******

 

When budding restaurateur Pop Ernest

developed a recipe that converted tough 

bland abalone into a succulent delicacy

it became the rage of the coast

all the way from haute Sausalito to 

Ventura.

 

******

 

Eventually they erected a monument around

those unsightly pipes at Steinbeck Plaza,

with fountains, a moat and stone bench

upon which visitors sit, munch and snap

photos. Atop the monument is perched

in bronze the scribe whose prose gave rise

to the phoenix that is

rowdy Cannery Row.

Below him on stone outcrops

a poised Ed Ricketts, Wide Ida

the cathouse queen, dignitaries

and one of those once loathed

but now widely heralded

little "Chinamen."

 

******

 

Early evening. It’s become quite windy

and stone cold, perhaps a point

at which to head back, down Pearl

then left at Calle Principal, to retrieve

the welcome warmth of my

parked Camry.

THE COURTSHIP OF WINDS

© 2015 by William Ray