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Through the causeway sluice

the sea pours with the tide.

In rubber thongs I brace

myself for cold and wade

into the shallows on

up-ended blue-black shells

of mussels.  As I lean

over their draining pools

they're savoring the current

through parted beaks.  Jammed tight,

barnacle-crusted, ancient

as time, half-calcified:

an underwater lea

endlessly spreading. In knots

of rock and fiber, they

remain immobile, bits

of armored flesh with habits

of plants.  I've long been waiting

to pick these flowers, snippets

of sea life for a floating


             But those who dine

on what the oceans yield

have learned a fine disdain.

And knowing that these wild

mussels are slight of flesh

I search the crowded beds

for prizes.  In the crush

of shells and stones the odds

of great gain while the tide

permits are small—and yet

one hopes.  And so I load

the basket weight by weight,

taking what vision, reach

and chance bring to my hand.

In this attentive crouch

I scavenge in no end

of plenty with the gong

of bell buoys in my ears.

I have been scavenging

in truth down all these years,

with worry at my back

waiting for the random

hand at last to pluck

me from the salty garden

where I've grown old and sipped

a fraction of the vast

surrounding sea.

                           So rapt

in sea dreams I'm possessed

by rhythms of waves and feel

in ebb and flow of blood

and air a tidal pull

and sunburn on my head.


There'll be no mussel trance.

I have imbibed the salt-

steeped revery more than once

and afterwards have dealt

with consequence.  It's time

to leave these timeless pools

where, bent and intent, I've roamed

gathering onyx shells.


Finished with musseling,

I make my way to shore

and like a laggard day-

dreaming schoolboy, hearing

the bell and dimly aware,

head home the longer way.


Jan Schreiber



© 2001; originally printed in Edge City
.  Reprinted by permission of the

Backgrounds by
Purple Woods

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