The Loneliness of a (Prune-Fingered) Trawler Fisherman
This morning, I read a lovely news story by Jonathan Amos about research on crinkly fingers:
Scientists led by Dr Tom Smulders have discovered that prune-like bath-fingers may have more to them than simple ‘Ooh, look how old and wrinkled my fingers look!’ value. They have surmised that this may be an evolutionary development to aid in handling wet objects: in their experiment, this was marbles – but out in ‘nature’, this could be fruit or fish, I suppose. Or anything that is – as the saying goes – slippery when wet (is it a saying, or just something that many things are?).
The researchers asked people to carry out a marble-moving task and discovered that those who had wet hands – and consequently got prune-fingers – were more effective at the task. I suppose if those marbles were actually tiny berries, or some curious spherical animal-foodstuff (wood-lice? frog-spawn? Small wet round things all seem a bit witch-y…), then having crinkly fingers could make all the difference to a hunter-gather-omnivore species like Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The difference between eating (and being ‘selected’ by evolution) and starving (and being ‘out of the evolutionary race’). So perhaps that’s why – so the researchers say – it might be triggered involuntarily by our nervous system, instead of being simply a ‘side-effect’ of being soggy.
As I enjoyed the story so much, I thought I’d base one of this week’s sci-poems around it. Here’s a sort of ballad, or song, I suppose – written by a character I thought would have wet, crinkly, prune fingers much of the time – a fisherman. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Neutrogena adverts, or something. (And maybe as a boat-dweller, I’m drawn to such characters!)
As it went on, it evolved (as poems and humans do) into something a little sad (and silly, all at once) – but I hope you enjoy its rhyme-y mariner-y quality.
(Incidentally, while looking for some appropriate music, I found Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’: I hadn’t ever listened all the way through and I recommend them – incredibly oceanic, panoramic and gorgeous).
A Lonely Fisherman Sings to the Catch
My coral fingers, these shrivelled hands
Grasping now Oceans, are slipp’d from land,
But my ship and the mesh, they can be no match:
For you are slippery when wet, dear Catch,
And your flicking tail is hard to get.
The crests of waves are your steely eyes,
Your limbs froth the clouds from the salty skies –
Yet my bark only ever glimpses a snatch:
For you are flicking hard to get, dear Catch,
Though my gaze and fingers are become a net.
These delta’d thumbs, these puckered claws –
Could they not lift you up from the swell’s great maws?
I will climb down the line, I will scratch at the deck
If you ne’er flicker in my net, dear Catch.
My candle sinks low now, my eyes stinging wet.
For your light slips away, dear, and the night’s bitter yet.
Oh and if you enjoyed that one, then here’s a link to another piece – Powder-Monkey – which I wrote a couple of years ago and is of a similarly seafaring and slightly-tragic (and very rhyme-centric, as a villanelle) vibe: