Mackerel Skies

An off shore homage to the rock
that will always be his,
staked and claimed with an early rise
like sea shore bargain hunters.
Failing that,
some sideways scrabbling motions
underscored with the patient biding of time
from east to west,
inching closer when others moved on,
their kept hours
never as long as his,
His sweet spot restored.

Two rods
conquering the sea,
him donned in golfing trousers
sent over from The States
as suited to the cast as the swing.
A full trace of mackerel his hole in one.
Their lurid checkness,
a dazzling mustard relief
to the Guillamene grey.
So not the regular wear
of a man
who fixed buses of a Saturday.

Head always bare,
his lush coarse grey hair resisting the sun,
Big square, thick lensed glasses
covering his eye
that we prayed nightly from our beds
For Holy God to make better,
He never did.
It mattered not;
on those fishing days he had no need to see
the shimmer of the shoals even though he did.
I swear he smelled the fish
before they even knew themselves
where they were headed.

A pint of milk
cream crackers
and a block of Galtee cheese.
Two sneaky packs of John Player Blue,
Twenty for him and Ten for me,
Smuggled into my back pocket
And still I gave him change.

Fishing gear ,
Curated over decades
Distilled to a days worth of needs,
Spans these sunlit years of
shining umbrella lures
and homemade weights.

Fresh lugs or rags
dug on an outward tide,
Sprung free, as he levered
the tells of worm casts
revealing the dark oily mud sand
of the Pier or Passage East.
We might stumble upon razor clams
As we snatched and plucked them
from their damp land under the sea.
Our quick, searching, child aged fingers
in time with the rhythmic labour of his fork
repelling them into a sandcastle bucket
To await flight to a watery grave.

I can see him
As I pause mid stroke
From this new angled sea space
Looking from the outside in.
Viewing the rock
that was softened by his standing.
Weightless in my memories
of three more casts
against a mackerel sky.


It was a conversation with our dear neighbour and friend Breda, who shared one of those beautiful nuggets of remembrance’s that provided the working title for this piece. She told me how my Dad would look at the evening sky or the morning sky and say “that’s a mackerel sky”, which birthed the belief that the sky actually gave him an indication of how good the fishing would be or maybe in truth it announced his intention to go fishing. However, there was magic associated with his knowledge, and knowledge he did have, for sure, of the sea and seasons and the countryside. I think though from Dad’s vantage point of life, every sky was a mackerel sky.

Today is my Dad’s anniversary. I’ll be checking for mackerel skies today out in the Guillamenes, though for the moment, it is my own body that keeps me on dry land. My Dad’s and my brother John’s love of the place makes it such a sacred special place for me. I think fishing was to my Dad what swimming in the cold sea is to me. I have learned a lot when I reflect on my Dad’s approach to fishing..it was the fishing not the catching that was the pleasure, the casting out, the reeling in, that rock, the elements of nature that surrounded him, his reading of the tide, the knowledge he had built up over an age of sea and river fishing. A sea spray of knowledge that had washed into his bones. The catch was just a bonus. He had some tenacity of spirit when it came to fishing and patience, oh yes hours and hours and hours of all weather patience. I am trying to cultivate some of my own.

I understand his desire for three more casts now and I’m so glad he took them.

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