48° 14.5’ S, 168° 18.76’ E

sea

(Person Overboard, 70 kilometres South of Stewart Island, New Zealand, 24 January 2004)

It’s not a sea. It’s ocean.
Brood black skies and so cold it burns.
Vo Minh Que, 22 months of ship time, no kid,
picked up by the whipping line and tossed
like a doll into four metre swells
from a floating death sentence called the Tasnui,
slopping around due south of Rakiura.
They call them factory trawlers. Too glamorous by half –
shitbuckets splattered with rust,
with a tangled shitbucket heap of wires, gears, mesh.
Vo Minh Que, 33 summers deep in life,
remained visible for one to one and a half hours.
They threw three lifebuoys, ten lifejackets, fishing floats,
while he floundered, kicked then slipped away.
Down below, the factory floor knee deep with carcasses.
They slide around in blood and brine
while men rip fish heads off with buzzing blades.
Vo Minh Que, Vietnamese national,
no home town mentioned, no outrage,
no diplomatic incident reported.
His last link the sweaty office
of a crewing agent far from this sightless deep.
They pack bruised flesh in ice,
sweep the excess into the waves
for a trail of seagulls to scream over.
The report from the maritime office
was tidy and concise.
Vo Minh Que, your memorial is archived data,
and perhaps the tears of a mother.
At about 2000 hours, when the deceased
was no longer visible, the crew heaved in the nets
and informed the shore authorities.
Under Korean flag state regulations,
no records are required to be kept
on treacherous strands of wire.
Vo Minh Que, whose last haul dragged
writhing fins and gasping gills from benthic gloom,
whose hands placed this white flesh on our table,
and whose long days profited someone far away
from this place of endless wind and salt.
It’s not a sea. It’s ocean.

(From Ambient Terror)