“Working on the Waterfront” by Erik Carlsen

Editor’s Note: Do not approach distressed seal pups. “If you believe a Harbor Seal pup or other marine mammal has been unattended by his mom for more than 48 hours, or is clearly in distress or injured, contact the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network Hotline at 1.866.767.6114.”


Every morning there are rats

Passed out from drinking

The leftover booze

That pools underneath

The restaurant’s dumpster.


Some of the men that arrive early in the morning to fish

Kick the rats into the water. Some swim to the floating dock,

And hold onto the rope that is tied to the floats. Others do not.


There are dogs that sleep in the sand and run up to you

If you look at them. I reached out to one, that is how

I got this scar.


One of the men has a contract with a dog. To keep the dog

From biting him. He takes it out on the boat

every morning. He lets the dog chew

one of the herrings he bought at the bait shop

And sleep in the sun on the bow of his boat.


Sometimes a seal pup will wash up without its mother

And cook into bones on the beach. Where are the men

To kick it back into the water, or even roll it towards the tide?


There are also baby raccoons that trap themselves

In garbage cans. Their mother’s stay close by,

Knowing their young did not just disappear.


I spend mornings sharpening fishing hooks

Watching young couples kiss

In the shade of the lean-to

That houses the rental canoes.


I see something kicking inside of the pelican’s mouth

As it stands on the picnic table…I watch its eyes widen

As it opens its mouth, and a rat comes tumbling out.

Shaking the water from its fur.


Erik Carlsen is a Tacoma native and soon-to-be graduate of Pacific Lutheran University.