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Jacqueline Simon

The Biloxi Shrimper Confesses to His Monsignor

The Gulf doesn’t hold so much:

where my grandfather used to get 50, 75 barrels a day,

I bring in 15 pounds.

Boats now are bigger, too, more efficient.

It doesn’t take so many.

Yesterday there were so many boats

you could barely see the horizon.

We drag our nets east and west,

they go any way they please!

They cut across our fields, one cut across my bow.

When a sensible man comes in from squalls and lightning,

they stay out, all day, all night.

At the Blessing of the Fleet, where were they?

Already at work. But they’re Catholics, too.

Christ says, Make peace among you.

But Christ would have said

you don’t make peace

by running across your brother’s field.

Now both sides go armed: tensions run high.

It’s no way to live.

The Monsignor Replies to the Shrimper

They’re out there on the water

because it’s the only place they have.

Their trawlers carry families, wives, and babies.

They’ll learn your laws and customs:

you think they want more violence?

Though I know they have their rifles, too.

Give them time, let them make their way.

The Gulf belongs to all the people—

now they’re the people, too.

You want more shrimp in your double riggers;

you’ve got a thirty thousand dollar boat,

two thousand worth of nets.

Today you made four hundred

and the profit wasn’t clear.

Nguyen Cao Ky gave them forty thousand, more,

to buy their boats.

He’ll be looking for something in return.

That’s at the problem’s core, brother.

It isn’t only the Vietnamese.

It’s in the human heart.

The Gulf doesn’t hold so much.

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