In the Year of “No Work”

By Matthew Nienow b. 1983 Matthew Nienow
I would drive the pre-dawn dark to stake
my spot to fish for dinner, to numb my hands in the ice
bucket, to pluck, from the neat stack, a herring,
to fit the skullcap and pierce the eye with a toothpick,
the body double-hooked, my fingertips glimmering
with the scales of the dead while the line whined free
from the reel, and the bait arced out over the tidal current
on a point in view of   the town where I lived,

where I had become a man
                                                       with no money,
suddenly concerned only with money, for there were mouths
and I had helped to make them —

The eddy swirled, kept my line taut, my
whole body taut though a man a few down the row
laughed, sitting back on his bucket while he pulled in more fish
than he could take.

I hated the other men, hated the ones who caught nothing,
who crossed lines or hooked gulls, who plucked even birds from the sky
and slowly drew them in while they struggled and looked away, even,
finally, in the hands of the man who only wanted them free.

I climbed the breakwater and fished and spoke to no one.

I baited my line and thought of a woman
who would carry my body over the threshold
of our small white house simply with her eyes
because I had brought something home,
for her, for us, our boys at my side
while one fish was divided and indeed did feed many —

(Now to sift the facts for truth):

I reeked of   the sea and had nothing to show for it.

Darkling saltwater for a dream
and no other place to be.

Source: Poetry (November 2013).


This poem originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2013
 Matthew  Nienow


Matthew Nienow was born in Los Angeles and spent most of his youth in Seattle. He earned an MFA from the University of Washington and a degree in Traditional Small Craft from the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.  His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry JournalNew England Review, Poetry, the Best New Poets anthology (2007 and 2012), and in three chapbooks.

Nienow has received awards and fellowships from the National . . .

Continue reading this biography

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.