In Yesterday’s post, Tanya Rogers wrote about an old-timer oysterman in Jacksonville whose local knowledge aided David Kimbro and his team in locating reefs to study. In today’s post, we take a poetic look at the life of an oysterman.
This is the first post by Dawn Evans Radford, a resident of Franklin County with deep roots in the area. She is a published writer of poetry, literary research, and fiction; her novel Oyster Flats won the 1993 Sherwood Anderson Award. Most recently she contributed to Unspoiled, a compilation in which Florida writers speak for the preservation of Florida’s wild coast and against offshore drilling. She is currently writing a second novel and, happily, contributing posts to this site.
Dawn Evans Radford
The oysterman groans and rolls over into the four o’clock
cold to pull on rubber boots and layers of shirts.
By bald-faced bulb light he gulps fatback, grits and biscuits,
coffee sweetened to a syrup,
then gives his sleepy-eyed wife his last dollar.
He wades the black bay to his oysterboat and sputters
into the dawn away from the sleeping town.
With shrinking shadow and twelve-foot tweezers,
he probes the bay bottom, forces mudclusters
0f oysters that clunk into his boat.
By four o’clock sun, he shakes ice from his beard and
guides his heavy boat across the bay to the dock
where he trades a harvest in wire baskets
for a palmfull of dollars.
By bulb light he pares mudbaked clothes
and steams clean in a galvanized tub of stove-heated water.
Over supper–beans and fatback, a platter of hoecakes–
the oysterman boasts to his brighteyed wife of the
Selects he tonged today. His oysters will grace
the lace and china tables of New York, Chicago,
Atlanta, St. Louis.