Short Stories, Essays, Poetry, Journalism.

The Crabber’s Curse

There’s a fog on this coast that’s thicker than most,
it can trick a man’s eyes, make him stumble.
If that’s not enough the girls have the stuff
to make all the proudest men humble.

The tale I now share asks you to declare
a verdict of “guilty” or “free’d”
and replaces my rows while I’m lost in the throes
a result of my lust and my greed.


We were making a grab for the red king crab
that reside up in Bristol Bay,
a journey four weeks to and from the ice sheets
in my boat, Lady Alice May.

Lady May got her name from a sultry dame
with bedroom eyes of brown
Who I liked to call mine and who’d pass the time
with me when I walked through the town.

Alice had a scent so effervescent
that every man’s head would turn
they’d give us a wave, but their faces were grave
for in their hearts they did yearn.

The way that they stared was as if they dared
that I go crabbing, leave her behind;
but with each look askance I knew some dark dance
was performed in the back of their minds.

Now I trust that you know when the ocean winds blow,
and the bright sky goes deep winter black
that a man feels alone and thinks of his home
to the point where he wants to turn back.

It shouldn’t surprise these fog-ridden eyes.
I should have known from the first.
Bringing Alice aboard to be my night ward
would render my men and I cursed.


Before we embarked I’d bought a horned lark
as diversion for her (and the crew),
and during each mess the cook I’d address
with “I’m Captain, that’s two bowls of stew.”

And as we set forth up into the north
the days grew dark and short
The crew was alone with their longing for home
but I had my bird and consort.

Under Hecate we sailed on the backs of the whales
felt the brine as it crusted our faces
‘til other boats joined in the quest for the coin
brought by crab from the coldest of places.

Then the temperature dropped and the dark waves chopped
that ocean fog turned cream thick
making even the strongest who’d plucked crab the longest
begin to go raving homesick.

But on the twelfth day we entered the bay
and got busy with dropping our pots.
In running those wires the crewmen got tired
so their homes, bit by bit, they forgot.

We worked that way for the next three days
until all our cargo was gone.
Then the fog turned clear and replaced our fear
with the midnight jewels that shone.

“Clear skies!” I cried, in a shout of surprise,
“what a time for a fortunate twist!”
But when I told Alice she seemed to me callous
her eyes were still shrouded in mist.

Through next day’s good favour we ceaselessly laboured
retrieving our first pots of crab
Each one came up packed ‘til those shells nearly cracked
and we realized we’d made quite the grab.

But our howling and hollers (at prospects of dollars)
which Alice could hear from afar
Affected her not; in a trance she was caught
at the sight of those shimmering stars.

Our day’s work done, we opened the rum
and toasted those endless nights
Then over our heads came glows green and red—
black north’s luminous northern lights.

The waving lights blurred with each drink incurred
‘til the whole blasted sky seemed aglow
But between drunken words I swore that I heard
a noise from my cabin below.

She appeared like a cloud, dressed in a white shroud,
seeming to hover in air
And all of my men (each wet-brained by then)
were helpless to do aught but stare.

With thoughtless ease she danced in the breeze
And we watched with the bow to our backs
Only jolted awake once we learned our mistake
through a series of deafening cracks!

She twisted, fell, let out a yell
we were shaken from our paradise
Then my eyes were full of our punctured hull,
riddled with thick chunks of ice.

Our great metal ship began to tip,
The waves spilled over the decks,
In that frozen hell we found ourselves
With water right up to our necks.

Drunk by drunk each crew member sunk
And only two things stayed afloat:
A loose white gown and, somehow, unbound
our little old wooden lifeboat.

The last I could do was grasp that canoe
but just as I looked for shore
a fierce wind wailed and the ocean was veiled
In the visionless fog once more.


Sights emerge as I gaze deep into this haze
visions that fill me with dread
White Alice appears, her face wet with tears,
eyes darkened as if she were dead.

My crewmen, too, float up from the blue,
red crabs spilling out of their throats
While somewhere near I can distantly hear
My tiny bird’s haunting notes.

But now as I write, the lost lark alights!
Find this tied with some strips from my shirt.
Perhaps there’s an odd it will reach you abroad
And you’ll find me in time, unhurt!

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