Perishable Goods

by Jane Slavin

Newfoundlanders had a name for it: chinsing; stuffing cracks between floorboards.

They did the same with the women. Packed like sardines, they crawled into a stinking hole,

freight below, deck above, two feet between sole and head.

 

It’s bad luck to let females up-top, so they’d fester, heads ducked to pray for rain,

to rinse the piss, the shit, the puke, the blood from splinter-boards and to just breathe out.

Sometimes it’s their fish-splicing skills the men are after. Sometimes.

 

They give birth sideways, parcel up newborns, winch them out of the hold and pray tiny lungs

don’t freeze in the sharp ice–cathedral air.  Perishables; mother and child, salted away

until they’re landed, as white and brittle as fish.