Knotted Whelk

Fishermen tie knots with the working end—
You turn my lines into rope,
Wrestle words that should not bend,
‘Til their meaning tucks under a loop.
I ask a figure eight and you rig a splice,
Heave your weighted answer, overhand
Threaded half blood, a strangled kite
Led as if by the hangman himself.

I trust you like a pirate, a ship’s mate
Sure of his loot and seizings,
The red sky warnings—
Cast all else the snaked whipping
Upon the mast, climb to the crow’s,
Where I watch your winds shift,
Then go below to check my periscope;
I tilt the mirrors to see you clearer
Yet only perceive myself.

You make a cat’s paw of me,
Sometimes seal my ends with heat,
Thorough as a clove hitch, we hold tight;
We unwind each other, too, still anchored to the cleat.
It keeps the tension, picks the fight,
Protects the cord from fraying or rot
When one of us unravels on the spot,
Or crumbles like dried wheat.

I cannot tell
How far this tether will reach
But ours is a whole knotted whelk
On a crushed shell beach.

-Leah C. Stetson

(Previously published in Not Just Air, Issue #8)