On the Coast Near Sausalito

by Robert Hass

Robert Hass


I won’t say much for the sea,
except that it was, almost,
the color of sour milk.
The sin on that clear
unmenacing sky was low,
angled off the gray fissure of the cliffs,
hills dark green with manzanita.

Low tide: slimed rocks
mottled brown and thick with kelp
merged with the gray stone
of the breakwater, sliding off
to antediluvian depths.
The old story: here filthy life begins.


ing, as Melville said,
“to purge the spleen,”
to put to task my clumsy hands
my hands that bruise by
not touching
pluck the legs from a prawn,
peel the shell off,
and curl the body twice about a hook.


The cabezone is not highly regarded
by fishermen, except Italians
who have the grace
to fry the pale, almost bluish flesh
in olive oil with a sprig
of fresh rosemary.

The cabezone, an ugly atavistic fish,
as old as the coastal shelf
it feeds upon
has fins of duck’s-web thickness,
resembles a prehistoric toad,
and is delicately sweet.

Catching one, the fierce quiver of surprise
and the line’s tension
are a recognition.


But it’s strange to kill
for the sudden feel of life.
The danger is
to moralize
that strangeness.
Holding the spiny monster in my hands
his bulging purple eyes
were eyes and the sun was
almost tangent to the planet
on our uneasy coast.
Creature and creatures,
we stared down centuries.

Last updated March 27, 2023