Flavor Town USA Poetry: “The Shrimpboat Captain” from THE DUST THAT SINGS by Alex Gregor

on the island of if,
the shrimpboat captain 
dreams of geckos
climbing up cave walls,
catching them & setting them free.

when he wakes up in the middle of the night,
& stares out into a sea of dwarf foxes on the dock,
their eyes glowing from the light of his lantern,
he climbs back into his bunk and asks himself,
how to build a stronger memory?
he closes his eyes & sees
red algae 
becoming sea sponges 
becoming neptune grass 
becoming brains of corral.

so he rises in the morning with the sun
to tap out keys on the little machine,
to tickle the ivory & hammer the ebony,
to player piano his way through a diminished chord,
then wax arpeggio!

he sips cowboy coffee from a tin cup & murmurs to himself:

with all these quipu chords and clay tablets,
i believe i’ll hunt me down some papyrus.

he sifts through stick charts & tobacco tins,
drawers filled with seed pods & dried herbs,
till he finds a long, weathered pelican feather,
dips the quill into an inkless well & paints watermelons.

(on an island with no words,
you learn to speak the language of the stars.
you learn to speak the language of the tides.
you learn to speak the language of the ground,
and what grows from it.)

in broad strokes, he paints ferns.
he paints flaming hydrangeas,
he paints vineyards—
American muscadine root stocks grafted onto French grape vines.

as he paints, he says to himself:

when ya plant corn,
ya need at least a few stalks,
so they can cross-pollinate.

and when ya plant pears,
don’t forget to cover em with nets
to keep the bats at bay.
you gonna get shrimp-slapped otherwise, heh heh.

plant butterfly bushes, too.
actually, any old flower will do.

& plant milkweed.
& let it grow.
don’t chop it down.

we’ll stand in the galleys & wait for the carpenters.
we’ll stand at the helm & wait for the monarchs.
we’ll stand in the crow’s nest & wait for the plankton.

at lunchtime, he washes out his brushes in a cup of seawater and says:

i believe i’ll have me one more half moon & another normal coffee, 
then slice me up a horned pepper & stuff it.

he takes a stroll down the dock to the bar of the port of old,
where he saddles up next to a mechanic who looks at him and moans:

WHEN I DIE,
I DON’T WANNA BE BURIED IN NO COFFIN.
JUST DIG THE HOLE,
& THROW ME IN, 
FACE DOWN,
SO THE WHOLE WORLD CAN KISS MY ASS.

to this, the shrimpboat captain lights a match inside of a shooting star,
props himself up on a rake & says:

WE ARE ALL CELLS OF THE SAME ORGANISM.

Also from THE DUST THAT SINGS

“The Hourglasses”

“The Lowcountry Chef”

“The Animal Garden”

“The Bloated Whale & The Barfly”

“The Sugar Eaters”

Alex Gregor is a writer, editor, and educator from Atlanta, Georgia, currently living in Rome, Italy. He is one of the founding editors of OOMPH! Press, the banjo player in the band, The Ship & The Swell, and a member of the Department of English Language & Literature at John Cabot University. Find out more at marginalcomets.com.

Image: Alex Gregor

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