Fishers

by Aaron Jafferis

Three dozen men line Grand Ave
in broad moonlight tryina to get someone to buy what they have.
As my D bus rushes by, I rub my moonstruck eyes
like “Jesus, did New Haven’s drug dealers finally unionize?”
But one of the hustlers is reeling in a customer
who looks suspiciously like a fish, which he
hits on the head on the edge of the bridge
‘til its dead so he can chuck it in his bucket and truck it home to his fridge.
Oh! They’re not dealing drugs; they’re fishing!

I wasn’t gonna judge – well, yes I was,
because I must admit: a bass fish is the last ish
I expect to see on the back o’ this bus,
but one o’ those fishermen
sits his pole and bucket right next to lucky me
and his pungent fish punches my nose with the smell of the sea.
When he tells me he’s a refugee from Guinea,
I see he’s almost civil-war skinny.
Says he’ll scale and skin the bluefish,
give it to his sister like a new wish
to cook and eat while he looks for work,
pounds the concrete. I look down at the brown feet
of this unemployed fisherman
riding the D bus, and suddenly think:
this city is like Jesus: a fisher of men
drawing innocent people in
since the very name of this city claims
“Come, and you’ll gain a true haven for you,”
but what if New Haven doesn’t come true?
What will the hopeful people fished in do
to cope with the distance between the true grit,
and the name that’s so very pretty?
Maybe that’s why New Haven’s always been a revolutionary city.

I look up and sitting next to me
is this old white guy with hair and eyes as wild
as John Brown – who once came to this town
to raise funds for his raid on Harper’s Ferry,
which starts to feel scary ‘cause he, too, was a fisher of men,
a revolutionary abolitionist gathering fistfuls of them way back when –
and he’s greeting a friend wearing sandals so old they sure ain’t Teva’s,
and that’s when I realize that is John Brown in the back of the D bus,
giving dap to a black Jesus, hatching a plan
to free three day laborers from México locked up ‘cause they lack visas,
and John Brown turns to Black Jesus and says “Jesus,”
and Jesus says “Dude, it’s pronounced Jesús.”
And starts breakin ish down in Spanglish,
Arabic, Aramaic and some archaic language
made of nothing but the anguish in John Brown’s eyes
saying “Everyone thinks we’re crazy, and no one sees us,”
so Jesus – I mean Jesús – says “Sí, that’s how we got loose
from that prison on Whalley Ave,” and he’s barely finished
when this woman asks “Can I give you a hand, sirs?
I’m Ericka Huggins, started the New Haven branch of the Black Panthers.”
And before they can answer, Ericka’s hand reaches out the bus window
and pulls in Warren Kimbro fishing youth from prison
stretching back to New Haven’s revolutionary beginning
when the Amistad rebels were imprisoned on the Green
and Cinque, I mean, Sengbe Pieh
already has a machete to the bus driver’s throat
whisperin “Turn this boat around and give us free, give us free.”

But the bus driver turns her dreadlocked head instead
and says “I tell ya, Sengbe, I hear ya, but my plan
is to start a peaceful revolution right here, man.”
And Sengbe checks the nametag to see who is
drivin the bus, telling us we’ll get through this,
and as he cries “Zannette Lewis!”
she opens the bus doors so wide
that she, Sengbe, Jesús, John Brown, and all the Panthers
dance outside, fishing again
for revolutionary women and men
to transform their wish into a living, loving flame
that’ll make New Haven live up to its name.

 

 

 


  • “[Stuck Elevator] is a fascinating and compelling work that proves strong ideas can’t be contained in simple boxes... claustrophobic and expansive, intimate and existential, personal and political all at once.” – Variety
  • About Aaron

    Aaron Jafferis is a hip hop poet and playwright. Read his bio, his CV, or contact him.