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Shrimp Boat Captain
Terri Kirby Erickson

The craggy-faced shrimp boat captain
keeps a pinch of chewing tobacco between
his lip and gum, wears faded blue overalls
and a ball cap. Early mornings, you'll
find him lumbering down the road towards
an old wooden pier, carrying a cooler filled
with ice, a fishing rod slung over his beefy
shoulder. Tackle swings like a pendulum
behind his back until he reaches his favorite
bench, close to the end. He pulls a bag
of shrimp from the cooler, baits his hooks
and casts his line as far as arthritis allows—
sits there until noon, either catching fish
or not; it's all the same to him. It's the sun
and wind and rain he's come for—the view
of shrimp boats headed out to sea, crews
tiny as toy soldiers. He can hear the cries
of hungry gulls, feel each vessel's pitch
and toss, though he is captain of nothing
now, save his own soul. And what his soul
wants is to keep his body close to water—
until the moon captures him in her net and lifts
it with cool, white hands into the starry sky.
From In the Palms of Angels (Press 53).
This poem first appeared in Shoal, and won First Prize Poetry in the
2010 Carteret Writers 19th Annual Writing Contest.
Used here with the author's permission.

Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of three collections of poetry, including her latest, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53), which won a 2012 Nautilus Silver Award for Poetry and the Gold Medal for Poetry in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. A poem from this collection was also chosen by Ted Kooser for inclusion in his American Life in Poetry column in 2013. Terri considers herself blessed and fortunate to have any success at all, doing work she loves, and says, "Poetry has been such a healing force in my life." She shares her love of writing and reading poetry by volunteering at the Derrick L. Davis Forsyth Regional Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, and guest lecturing wherever she is invited to speak about poetry. A North Carolina native, Terri lives in a small town outside of Winston-Salem, with her husband of twenty years; her goal is "to make poetry more popular in this country than NASCAR!"  Learn more about her at


Post New Comment:
nancy scott:
I got to the poem late in the day. What a lovely way to wind the day down. I read the poem three times. It is beautifully wrought.
Posted 08/22/2012 07:48 PM
w o w Judy
Posted 08/22/2012 11:48 AM
This is so representative of Terri's work. I love how the title prepares us for the truth, but not the truth we expect. The ending? Fabulous. A quiet burst of fireworks.
Posted 08/22/2012 09:08 AM
lovely poem, I can see him so clearly...
Posted 08/22/2012 08:27 AM
Ralph Murre:
A great piece. Absolutely rings true.
Posted 08/22/2012 08:16 AM
Terri Kirby Erickson:
Thanks so much to everyone, for the lovely comments about my poem. I spent some of my happiest childhood days at the coast of North Carolina, with shrimp boats shimmering in the distance...
Posted 08/22/2012 08:12 AM
The title of this poem engenders a creative tension with its subject matter that is artfully resolved. " . . . save his own soul" reverberates.
Posted 08/22/2012 08:07 AM
Beautiful! I am a surf fisherwoman and I can sit all day "Fishing," which is mostly watching the beautiful beach/sea images that this poet describes. The ending is simply perfect!
Posted 08/22/2012 08:01 AM
Larry Schug:
Keep writing poems like this and NASCAR will deflate its tires out of frustration! Good eye, fine writing. Thank you.
Posted 08/22/2012 07:55 AM
What a glimmering reflection!
Posted 08/22/2012 04:12 AM

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