words: Work for the Day








Your assignment: design a container

for the sea. It must embrace each whale 

and fleck of plankton. Of course, you will think

of your favorite tropical fish, the rich

coral canyons, the deep kelp forests,

the sea otters and singing dolphins, but

you must must include the rest:

great white sharks and red tides,

the deadly stinging jellyfish. 

Your container must hold every calm

and billow, every island and basin

and estuary and brackish backwater.

Leave nothing out. The tsunami must be

there, and the pale blue impossible calms

after the storms have passed.



I remember the day I first smelled the sea,
how it tugged at my sprouting romantic soul.
For hours I walked the sheltered shore, picking shells;
the stranger gulls sang my song.
I believed that everything perfect could be gathered,
tied in a bag to bring home.
I believed, then, in beauty unchanging,
truth frozen like figures on an Attic vase.

But on this other shore I see there are no perfect shells.
I  have gathered what I could:
thick worn slabs of helmet shell, crackled cockle,
crescent moonshells thinned to thumbnails,
black oysters like footbones, black spirals of whelk,
Mother-of-Pearl all pummeled away.
I have watched my footprints disappear,
watched pelicans disappear behind green glass waves,
long brown waves breaking to purple and white.

Gannets are falling straight as feathered spears
among silver flanked foam-grazing dolphins.
Down the transient gold sifting shell-powder sand
where gull and plover patter, picking death,
the gorgeous dried guts of a giant fish
twist away from salt black leather hide.
Shapeshifting dunes blow slow along this one black road
and gulls drop shells to feast on what they find.

A very old one.