Pisaster ochraceus

When I was a child
No moment was lonelier than when
A cousin whispered, “Look!”—
And pointed up, or out
At a bald eagle specked against the sky
Or a doe hiding her tawny head
Behind the apple trees,
And all the others echoed grateful awe.
But my slow eyes…
By the time they reached the finger’s mark
The miracle had fled.

Except for the sea stars.

When a cousin found one
Sheltered in a rock ledge,
Bright and spangled in the shadows,
It stayed.
Waited for me to crouch
To peer in close
To touch my nose to the wet velvet
Of its body.

I loved them.

***

I didn’t know they were a keystone species,
The ochre or amethyst foundation
Of the Pacific tidepool, for
They eat the mussels that would otherwise crowd out
The algae and anemones.

I only knew
The beach stretched beside a golf course
Of shaved brown lawn and compassed sandy rounds,
And when the tide was high
It was a neat, thin strip of stones
Below the sea wall.

But every day the Sound relaxed,
Let loose a wilderness
Of sea glass, seaweed splatters: green and milk and red,
And crabs that ran when you picked up each rock like revelers fleeing
Prohibition’s flashlight,
And gray sand rippling outward
Wet and sparking,
Where moon snails hid their round egg casings
In the footprints of the waves.
Finally, towards the point
The fingers of the bluffs stretched out—
Rough with barnacles and slick with kelp—
And in their valleys lived
The soft and glowing sea cucumbers
The green-fingered anemones and
Orange and purple sea stars.
I would stare down into their depths
Speckled with white dots as if
They were themselves galaxies
That held their namesakes.

Visiting that daily disappearing, reappearing city, I believed
The golfers and their mowers could not win.
The world could not be flattened.

***

Years passed, waters warmed.
I moved away, so only read
About the virus.
First: white lesions.
Then: the sea stars’ arms break off and try to flee.
The stranded center melts
Into a formless goo.
They could no longer stay.
They could no longer wait.

Scientists warned
If nothing changed
The mussels would eat up the algae
And anemones, the low-tide would be simpler,
Cleaner, maybe.
The diesel that mowed the golf course
Would flatten the whole world, after all.

***

Or so I feared,
But that was not the end!
The next generation changed enough
To fight the strange disease
And thrive.
And can we learn to imitate with will
The unthought daring of the gene?
Can we change to survive?
Oh, let the golf course grow
Wild and bright with bees
And dandelions glowing
Beside the sea stars!

Image credit Gordon E. Robertson / CC BY-SA 3.0

2 Comments

  1. Wonderful evocation of the beaches on Bainbridge! Thanks for letting my imagination remember those summer days of low tides and all the things to discover! Now my grandchildren turn over rocks, find sea glass and walk way out along the rocks to find the sea stars.

    Like

    1. Hi Fay,
      I am so glad the poem spoke to you, and that another generation is getting a chance to explore that magical beach. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season.

      Like

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