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Ellie Schmidt


Ellie Schmidt is an artist, filmmaker, and commercial fisherman living in Sitka, AK. Although she primarily works in visual art, in the past years her work has moved increasingly towards written word and poetry. Ellie examines the intersections between her experiences as a fisherman and hunter, and her relationships with her mother, her friends, and her partner. She is interested in the analogy between processing animals and emotional attachment. These poems trace seasonal changes in the harbor in Sitka, where Ellie lives on a small boat.

a big, beautiful thing

this morning you stood in your living room in your wetsuit, eating dates and chocolate
the light in the windows was white
you were putting baking chips into the hairy centers of the fruit
pulled apart
the pith— a lining
to pith an animal is to sever its spinal chord, for butchering
holes— the preexisting, God-given ones, the ones used over and over again
and the holes that only exist once, useful one time only, for butchering
last week I went out on the water for a day without food, by accident
and as we ran towards town I thought about hunger
I felt it in my mouth, on my tongue
it ran into my stomach and colon
and as I looked up from the skiff at the islands near town
I wanted to eat trees, seaweeds, invertebrates
you know I don’t feel bad about codependence
this is what that hunger felt like— loving you
a dependence on a big, beautiful thing
a rupture of my sweet isolation from cold and discomfort
a spilling into the shaggy, salty chaos of things
in the skiff I closed my eyes and thought about animals
and their hunger, and cold, and crusty eyes
I thought about seabirds, picking up silver darts of food from the ocean
eating and shitting over and over again forever
I want to access you this way
messily, intergenerational
faithful to it
back in town, red faced and wild, I ate without taking my boots off

herring season

the herring seiners make a wall
on the outside of the harbor
my neighborhood becomes a holding grounds for
transient workers
men tying line
men smoking cigarettes
men throwing buoys
I love them
I love the seiners
their steel, their elegant lines
winches black and battered like tools of war
each has a different color scheme
a faithful crew
and a skiff, humbly small but powerful
nose padded with woven line, thick but torn
Maureen and I walk past in the late afternoon, when everything is blue
a seiner has a hot tub jerry-rigged on the top deck
a plastic tote connected by tubes to a tiny, burnished wood stove
a pale dimpled back lounges in there, seared red
fragrant smoke from the stove pipe bathes my boat
we step in, feeling watched
the portholes facing the seiners are covered by felt
to the other side, the light is pale, gentle, cold
Maureen takes off her shirt and bra
I rummage around for the jar of coconut oil
green and orange mold grows there, I scrape it off with a spoon
the oil beneath still smells sharp, but
I melt it between my hands
my hair tie breaks, my hair falls beside us
somehow, through all these darknesses,
my eyelashes, the settee,
the felt, the metal hull, the smoke and darkening clouds
light comes through
illuminates her face beneath mine—
her eyes, her teeth
glow like the inside of a shell

harbor in February

the ice between boats
thin, black, hard to see, but
the quality of the harbor lights is different there, stagnant
the boats don’t look like they’re sleeping this time of year
they look dead
the people wandering around at night, with grocery bags,
lit by the blue of their phones—
they live here
they are not seasonal workers
perhaps it is their hair on the shower walls
their wet footprints on the floor
there is less aggression on the air, now
but I do not say hello to a man who ties his skiff
I turn to my home
tethered to shore power
the coils hard, set by time and cold
will I remember this era of slipping into my berth alone
looking for deep, complete darkness
one blanket for warmth
another for the weight
will I remember the tepid curiosity of sexless months
how the desire for another body felt academic, like an accounting
I fear the melding of the years
the false accordion of the seasons
winters feeling more similar to other winters
turning again and again to my black, electric bed
ravens and crows are hungry now
they peel mussels from the pilings
the shards in the morning in a frost patina
scattered by dying starfishes
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