“Always foolishness!” Francisco spits his words out past a plug of chaw wedged in his cheek. A sloppy grin on his face. Gap-toothed gums hidden beneath a bushy gray mustache. A stubbled chin. Red-and-black-plaid wool shirt. Sleeves rolled up. Bulging, muscular forearms. Ever-wet hands.
I loves The Cod. Love or hate! Is no choice! So many years…. Hate The Cod? Is a sacrilege! “Jesús, a fisherman, não?”
He bends down. Pulls a fish from a loaded wheelbarrow, swinging it upwards in a wide arc. It lands with a Plop! onto his cutting board, a broad oak plank spanning two old barrels out in the open on this tired old wharf. He works with practiced rhythm. Pinches eye sockets between his thumb and middle finger. Turns it belly away. Slips his narrow, curved blade into its vent. Glides the knife to its throat. Guts slip out as though he’s done them a favor. The mass glistens in the bright sun.
Finding roe he pauses to admire its beauty, “Ah…” Gently gathering two long, tapered lobes encased in a glistening, translucent membrane. Pale carnation-pink. He cuts them free. Cradles them in his palm. Slips them into a pail set aside for this delicacy.
Scooping up a broad yellow-green liver, he plucks the gallbladder out with the tip of his knife, flinging it clear. It lands on a pile of similar, tiny black-globes, oozing dark bile into the sand before dropping the liver into a greasy barrel, Slap! Flesh on flesh.
Severing the Aorta, he tosses the Cod’s heart into a large stoneware crock, One for each life. His knife slides deftly between two vertebrae behind the gills, disjointing the head with a little flick of his blade, dislocating the spine with a sharp, Click. Cheeks and tongue spin into a pail. The head into another. With a swipe of the back of his hand he scrapes the crop and intestines over the edge of the wharf. Down to the water and the waiting gulls.
His knife ripples along the Cod’s backbone, filleting one side, leaving it attached along the back by a flap of skin, fin, and flesh. He heaves the butterflied Cod, two feet wide and three feet long onto a heap of wet limp fellows. Pages tossed in a pile. Never destined to be bound. Piled atop another wheelbarrow, “YOU crazy! I tell YOU! ”
Joe, “Ze” Sousa works a few feet away. His motions mirror Francisco’s, “Franny, what YOU say crazy? I tell truth!” These cousins spend their days here on this wharf. Ze’s sleeves always rolled up. Rubber boots. An oilskin apron hangs from his sun-burnt neck. Its tie creases his gut, attempting to indicate a waistline where there is none, “Why he do what you say? Eh? É uma loucura! Craziness!” They argue all day while dressing a fish-a-minute. Some days from dawn to dusk.
They look down their noses at those “Rapazinhos,” “Kids” who split herring and mackerel for the smokehouses. Francisco proclaims, “Is no good! Lee’tle fee’sh!” He pulls his elbows in close to his apron, “Full d’ espinhas! Bones!” He shakes his head in disgust. Joe takes the opposing view, “É bom petisco! A good snack!” They agree, tugging an ear lobe with a knowing grin, crying out with glee, “D’ aqui! From here!” An old Portuguese gesture comparing a tasty tit-bit with the tenderest, most bite-able body part. The ultimate culinary compliment.
“Good for a grelha. Cavala! Sardinha! ” Mackerel and Sardines. Francisco warms to his subject, licking his lips. Their eyes mist over with Saudade. Francisco grabs another Cod from the barrow, “Only the Cod…” Ze snaps back, “Sao todos bons! They’re all good!”
Gulls wheel overhead. Circle and swoop. Fight over scraps. The light fades from the sky. They join into ragged, staggered lines. Set off across the harbor to roost on Long Point. Crying out an insatiable hunger. Carrying their infinite appetites into the night.
Ai, O Meu Bacalhau!
Não á nada mais belo do que o meu bacalhau.
Grande y tão jeitoso, gemer na minha tábua.
Com tua barriga cheia, como uma grávida.
A pele dourada, coberta em escalas de prata.
As barbatanas macias, as espinhas afiadas.
Os olhos redondos, grandes, límpidos, cansados.
O rabo redondo, como a minha mão, grande.
As guelras vermelhas, cheias de sangue, forte.
Tão fria, mas cheia de beleza.
Passo mais tempo contigo do que com a minha esposa.
Abra-te a minha faca, cheia de ovas cor de rosa.
As peles da tua barriga lustrosas como madrepérola.
Cuandu acabo contigo, a mais outra, y outra atras de ela.
Seu cheiro, limpo, fundo, no meu nariz a toda hora.
Cinto o teu peso nos meus braços a noite, quando durmo.
Ai! Não a nada, mais belo do que o meu bacalhau.
Oh, My Codfish!
No, nothing is more beautiful than my codfish.
Big and so handy, squirming on my board.
With your belly full, like a pregnant one.
Your skin golden, covered in scales of silver.
Fins smooth, spines sharp.
Eyes round, big, clear, tired.
Tail round, like my hand, big.
Gills red, full of blood, strong.
So cold, but full of beauty.
I spend more time with you than with my wife.
You open to my knife, full of roe, eggs, so pink.
The membranes of your belly shine like mother-of-pearl.
When I finish with you, there’s another, then another after.
Your smell, clean, deep, in my nose all the time.
I feel your weight on my arms at night when I sleep.
Oh, there is nothing more beautiful than my codfish.