Sweet grouper throats

By Mark Dow

Government Cut, Miami

Government Cut, Miami. Photograph by Emilio Labrador, posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Arrival is attack, zig-zagged, roundabout, or straight on.

Miami, Miami on:

Small and large vessels loaded with second-hand goods and stolen merchandise moved down the Miami River, past the parking lot of East Coast Fisheries, the market and restaurant where I first ate grouper throats, towards Biscayne Bay and the Caribbean Sea. The throats are said to be the sweetest part. I remember the night I wanted to eat So-and-so’s. It doesn’t matter what it was she sang. It was an aria I’d assumed I’d sit patiently through until the performance of what I’d come for. But she turned to me in the uppermost row. “You think that I’m afraid of you?” is not what she sang, but I don’t speak the language, and I was. My eyes must have been closed because I can still see it so clearly, reservoir in her throat and a stream moving through it. Hers was the first first note that appeared to me as if it had been there all along, changed everything that preceded or awaited it without disrupting a thing, if that was her. So that’s what immaculate conception must be: time and no-time. Here it comes and been here all along.

The even-larger vessels use a deep-water lane called Government Cut, cut along surrounding islands, parallel to the MacArthur Causeway, which connects Miami to the southern part of Miami Beach, to move from the Port of Miami into the bay and out to the Atlantic shipping lanes. But a hundred-fifty-five-foot Honduran-flagged freighter called Concepción got itself into shallow water. As the feds, county, and municipality bickered to evade jurisdiction, February waves went on arriving, and, as they were diverted around the vessel, shallower shallows formed, and a new sandbar emerged as a path from shore to ship, which the crew had since abandoned. On deck were hundreds of used bicycles, scores of washers and dryers, refrigerators, and one Mack truck. Breakbulk cargo. Evenings locals and a few tourists would stand in the sand to watch nothing happening. Then one night a group of kids scampered out and like a chain of ants formed a ladder of themselves, the chubbiest of them ankle-deep. They clambered over each other’s backs and shoulders to the railing, then poured across Concepción’s deck to the bikes, which they began to toss overboard. A dozen or so mostly shirtless adults saw the light in the cabin in the stern go on. Muffled shouting. A security guard’s flashlight jerked as he stumbled to get at them. The monkeys backtracked to bow, dangled, dropped hard onto the big kid, calmly recovered their bikes and rolled them through shallow waves and across the sand. Soft white noise and mild salt air, ionised. Inland for the next few days, kids on used bikes appeared in small packs. In the alleys adults made rusty repairs.

In the alley between Euclid and Meridian, connecting 14th Street to 14th Place, I ran into my neighbour’s cousin who had made the trip from Havana on an inner tube and would be driving my old blue Cavalier wagon when the Miami Police confiscated it because he was soliciting a prostitute in it, allegedly. We were shirtless and talked about baseball. When he was a boy in Cuba, he said, without a real ball, he and his friends would put two bottle caps back-to-back and wind tape around and around them. When eventually he played with a regulation-size ball, it seemed gigantic and was easy to make contact with. His cousin came over. Yeah, we used to play with a cork. It would dip and curve all over the place, so when we played with a regular, round ball that travelled straight, it was so easy to hit.

In that same alley a sabal palmetto caught fire from the electrical transformer smothered in its fronds. The fronds sparked, flared, and sizzled in the daylight until the electric company came and took care of it.

In the alley between Michigan and Lenox Avenues, connecting 6th and 7th Streets, a man slowly driving a van shouted to the backs of buildings, “¡Camarrones! ¡Camarrones frescos!” meaning shrimp, fresh shrimp. One man hearing shrimp fresh shrimp through jalousies open to the alley sat at a kitchen table where he would listen to shortwave, police, and marine transmissions on a Venturer multiband radio. Who’s who here? The man heard another man place a call with operator assistance. A woman answered. The man at the table wrote down what they said as best he could. What the soprano had sung was, “You ask that I forget you? You can advise me to give myself to her? And this while yet I live?”

And the area is 305. How is the call to be billed?

To be collect. Yes, call collect.

And your name is what, sir?


Thank you.


Hello? Collect from Ar—

Yeah, I’ll accept it.




We’re gonna meet her this Sunday, so he’s gonna be there at nine. You think you can make it, too?

This Sunday? To where?

Para las nueve par’allí.

Y ¿para qué?


Well, you have to let me know till I know what to wear, you know?

Casually. Say shorts, you know. We are on the boat. We just gonna have a couple of drinks and ride on the boat, that’s it.

I don’t know. If I make it, I’ll be there, all right?


If I make it, I’ll be there.

What do you mean, “If I make it, I’ll be there”?

That’s right.

What do you mean “If — ”¿Qué es que tu dices que si puede, está alli? Díme, ¿what is la problema?

Ningún, ningún problema.

¿Porqué no quieres venir?

Mira, estoy comiendo, ¿oiste?

Bueno —

Y son las ocho y viente.


Just go out to eat. We’re gonna go fishing and then that’s it.

I told you, I’ll try to be there at nine, all right?

Ya me voy. I’m gonna wait for you, but I have to know if you’re gonna come or not, OK?

Why? Why do you have to know? If I’m there, I’m there. If I’m not, I’m not.

¿Va’ a venir o no?

I told you, if I make it, I make it.

Mire, whatever you say.




¿Qué es lo que te pasa?

Well, because I don’t like for you to take plans without counting with me. You know that. I have told you millions of times.

Anyway, you were gonna come over, you said, but tu sabes por qué no va’, OK?

Yo no sé.

¿Cuál es la problema?

A mí no me gusta de lo —

Just come, OK? And don’t, don’t cut anything, OK?

Ay, mira [inaudible] a hacer, te voy a dejar.

¿Qué tu has dijistes?

¡Ya te dije! Si voy, bien. Si no estoy, no, ¿OK?

OK, bye.


Marine, marino — this is over.

Linus Lawrie, you clear? Miami, Miami off.


The Caribbean Review of Books, July 2010

Mark Dow is writing a book of nonfiction called Each Thing Starts. His poetry manuscript Plain Talk Rising was a 2010 finalist for the New Issues Poetry Prize. His poems and prose have appeared recently in the Paris Review, New York Times, Agni, Killing the Buddha, and PN Review. He is author of American Gulag: Inside US Immigration Prisons (2004). He was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He can be reached at mdow@igc.org.