Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Herring Station

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Herring Station

Article excerpt

Fethaland, Shetland

An idiosyncrasy peculiar to the herring is that when dead, it begins to glow... Two English scientists . . . investigated the unusual phenomenon in the hope that the luminous substance exuded by dead herrings would lead to a formula for an organic source of light that had the capacity to regenerate itself.

-W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

I

Gannets coat the cliffs like barnacles

and stone steps lead unwalked into the sea.

I duck through one of the doors. Grass spreads

from wall to wall and yellows in the hearth.

All summer men hauled nets of fish

up onto the beach while women gutted the herring,

ten a minute, and threw the innards to the gulls.

At night they lit a candle on the rounded sill,

shielded it from the wind with a piece of sail,

and waited for the sixareens to come back

from the deep sea fishing grounds

where men sleep standing up.

II

After herring die, their bodies begin to bloat

with a pale, white phosphorescence.

Two men once tried to light the streets of London

with the death-glow of the herring

but found no way to carry the light,

so out at sea, or on the beach,

when the catch was too much to gut

and salt and ship to the cities, herring flared

and decayed, and they imagined

that rank glow flooding Trafalgar Square

and lighting the bankers back home. …

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