These are the fellows who smell of salt to the prairie,
Keep the back country informed of crumbling swell
That buckles the international course off Halifax
after a night of wind:

Angus Walters and Ben Pine, carrying on for Tommy
Himmelman and Marty
Heading up the tough men who get into the news,
Heading up the hard men of Lunenburg and Gloucester,
Keeping the cities bordered with grass and grain
Forever mindful that something wet and salt
Creeps and loafs and marches round the continent,
Careless of time, careless of change, obeying the moon.

Listen to little Angus, squinting at the Bluenose:
The timber that'll beat her still stands in the woods."
Yes, these are the fellows who remind you again of the sea.

But one town, or two,
Are never enough to keep the salt in the blood.

I haven't seen Queensport Light over the loom of Ragged
Head in years,
And never a smell of rollers coming up the bay from Canso.
No one ever heard of Queensport outside of a bait report;
No one ever saw the name of Ragged Head anywhere.

Off that obscure beach, Will Bruce and George McMaster
Set their herring nets, and went farther out for mackerel.

The mackeral never ran, but in July
Fat herring tangled in wet twine were silver thick,
and the flat tow in the water as we hauled around
to head back for the huts;

In full daylight now,
After the grey dusk of a windless morning;
After the bay, gently stirring in half darkness,
Tipped down again to blush at the sun's rim.

Cleaning fish is a job you would balk at;
But nothing is mean with gulls hovering down,
Sun brighter than life on glistening eelgrass,
The bay crawling again in a quickening southwest wind.

There was always a time after the wash barrels were empty,
After hand-barrows were lugged up the beach to the hut,
And herring lay behind handwrought staves,
clean with salt

Time to lie on warm stone and listen
While the sting went out of crooked fingers and thighs
ceased to ache;
Time to hear men's voices, coming quietly through
a colored cloth of sound
Woven in the slap of water on fluent gravel.

Their talk was slow and quiet, of fish and men
And fields back on the hill with fences down,
Hay to be made through long hot days with never
a splash on the oilskins,
Or the lift of water awake under half-inch pine.

The mackeral never ran, and if the herring
Had been only a story, a story for midnight telling,
These would have launched their flats and tended
the empty nets.

I know it now, remembering now the calm;
Remembering now the lowering care that lifted
From a face turned to the wind off Ragged Head.

These are the fellows who keep the salt in the blood.
Knowing it fresh in themselves, needful as hope,
They give to the cities bordered with woods and grass
A few homesick men, walking an alien street;
A few women, remembering misty stars
And the long grumbling sigh of the bay at night.

Words are never enough; these are aware
Somewhere deep in the soundless well of knowing,
That sea, in the flesh and nerves and the puzzling mind
Of children born to the long grip of its tide,
Must always wash the land’s remotest heart.
These are the fellows who keep the salt in the blood.

© Harry Bruce, All Rights Reserved