It seemed so simple, planned over a pint:
Buy a black-market swarm of glass eels
To raise in a tank in his shed.
As he sprinkles crushed crayfish, sees
Ugly eel underbites vie at the surface,
He thinks of his sleek, fat profit.
He watches them grow to young elvers,
Shivery streaks of mercury, darkening.
The flicking of their feathery tails makes him
Ticklish. He stares for hours, mesmerized
By the rotating symmetry of their threefold spines.
He starts to feel sorry they won’t get to spawn
In the warmth of the Sargasso Sea. He tries to
Harden his heart. But there is only one
Of him, and so many of them: he doesn’t
Stand a chance against their wheedling,
Insinuating ways. Their humour
Is filthy; as they worm out of him
His dirtiest jokes, an eel snigger
Ripples through the tank. And though
He’s loath to lose his pet project,
They persuade him to let them go.
One summer’s day, he stands on the bank,
Squeaks off a styrofoam lid, and tips out
A wriggling waterfall, stretching and
Twisting in the afternoon sun.
They weave shadows on the sulky bed
Of the River Great Ouse. A dappled
Carpet in the current, his slithery crop
Is swept off to sea. Not an eel
Looks back. With his binoculars
He follows them out of sight; sighs,
And turns back towards the pub.
Elaine Ewart, Fenland Poet Laureate
Written for the Ely Eel Festival, May 2012