Words Are Never Enough

1These are the fellows who smell of salt to the prarie,
2Keep the back country informed of crumbling swell
3That buckles the international course off Halifax
4After a night of wind:
5Angus Walters and Ben Pine, carrying on for Tommy Himmelman and Marty Welch,
6Heading up the tough men who get into the news,
7Heading up the hard men of Lunenberg and Gloucester,
8Keeping the cities bordered with grass and grain
9Forever mindful that something wet and salt
10Creeps and loafs and marches round the continent,
11Careless of time, careless of change, obeying the moon.
12Listen to little Angus, squinting at the Bluenose:
13“The timber that’ll beat her still stands in the woods.”
14Yes, these are the fellows who remind you again of the sea.
15But one town, or two,
16Are never enough to keep salt in the blood.
17I haven’t seen Queensport Light over the loom of Ragged Head in years,
18And never a smell of rollers coming up the bay from Canso.
19No one ever heard of Queensport outside of a bait report;
20No one ever saw the name of Ragged Head anywhere.
21Off that obscure beach, Will Bruce and George McMaster
22Set their herring nets, and went further out for mackerel.
23The mackerel never ran, but in July
24Fat herring tangled in wet twine were silver-thick,
25And the flat low in the water as we hauled around
26to head back for the huts;
27In full daylight now,
28After the grey dusk of windless morning;
29After the bay, gently stirring in half darkness,
30Tapped down again to blush at the sun’s rim.
31Cleaning fish is a job you would balk at;
32But nothing is mean with gulls hovering down,
33Sun brighter than life on glistening eelgrass,
34The bay crawling again in a quickening southwest wind.
35There was always a time after the wash barrels were empty,
36After hand-barrows were lugged up the beach to the hut,
37And herring lay behind handwrought staves, clean with salt –
38Time to lie on warm stone and listen
39While the sting went out of crooked fingers and thighs ceased to ache;
40Time to hear men’s voices, coming quietly through a colored cloth of sound
41Woven in the slap of water on fluent gravel.
42Their talk was slow and quiet, of fish and men
43And fields back on the hill with fences down,
44Hay to be made through long hot days with never a splash on the oilskins,
45Or the lift of water awake under half-inch pine.
46The mackerel never rain, and if the herring
47had been only a story, a legend for midnight telling,
48These would have launched their flats and tended the empty nets.
49I know it now, remembering now the calm;
50Remembering now the lowering care that lifted
51From a face turned to the wind off Ragged Head.
52These are the fellows who keep salt in the blood.
53Knowing it fresh in themselves, needful as hope,
54They give to the cities bordered with woods and grass
55a few homesick men, walking an alien street;
56A few women, remembering misty stars
57And the long grumbling sight of the bay at night.
58Words are never enough; these are aware
59Somewhere deep in the soundless well of knowing.
60That sea, in the flesh and nerves and the puzzling mind
61Of children born to the long grip of its tide,
62Must always wash the land’s remotest heart.
63These are the fellows who keep salt in the blood.
RPO poem Editors: 
Jim Johnstone
RPO Edition: 
2015
Special Copyright: 

Poem used with permission of the Charles Bruce Estate.