April is National Poetry Month and the beginning of beach season, depending on where you are, so here’s a poem I wrote on a beach several years ago.
A “mermaid’s purse” is a black, leathery rectangle that’s the egg case of skates, stingrays, and certain kinds of sharks. They often wash up on the beach once their occupant swims away.
I was also born out of the sea, out of rocky oyster shells and polyphemous waves,
Under gulls riding changes in the wind.
Tied To coral, to warped twigs in green light, cartilage congealed
Into a diamond-winged body, brown above and ghostwhite below, and a trailing tail.
Swimmers all of us.
What I couldn’t see from my point on land I connected
To things I recognized. It rained.
Water met water, a million drops disturbed
But the fish only feel it when the waves grow heavy enough to drag
Them into the air. They feel it always. Even fused to their element
They breathe the threat
I walked gulls ran at the waves, caught quick bites, and picked at tidal remains. No sun
Breaks. Not since my birth has the sun come
Through to here, and the cold water runs wild and foul abandoned
To itself. I never noticed the currents above and below that shook me in
The tasteless pouch of comfort and unliving,
My dark home. The light broke, called me to follow, and my world split and was carried
Upward to the gull cries and foamy strings playing on the surface. I catch
It as it comes in
With the waves: a black leathery rectangle with wiry
Arms at its corners. It’s a mermaid’s purse, still thick with the smell of the sea.
On the sand
Nearby, half-sunk in foam and nearly invisible where it lies exposed,
Is a skate
Thrown onto the beach by an earlier wave, tail still
Touching the tide as it goes out.
I skim the bottom while threatening shadows of gulls pass over
My body blended with the background. Only touches of white where
My wings curl over reveal
Me, and the waves protect me for now. I prowl for the dead, scavenging for leftovers
Of storms, starvation,
And the hard black tides that strand and take back.
An offshore squall washed up blowfish, foam, and bubbled tresses of seaweed.
A strangled heron
Lies spread in flight on a pile of driftwood, cracked beak pointed toward
Sky-blue crabs clustered in a collective grave. A rust-skinned hook threatens nothing,
Though it lies close to a fish still and silver in the gray light. All around
Are fragments of sponge and coral. A string of bleached and broken shells has settled
Into a ridge to hold
The water as it comes in, puts its arms out to the things in its reach, and pulls
Them close. When
I broke from the blackness it was freedom, it was the beginning
Of the new tide.
The wind dies
Suddenly and the sun pushes through. From over the water, for a moment,
The same sun under the water, rays reflected into sea urchin spines.
Waves turn blue then, as they approach, they change to aquamarine,
And mingling with white. They roll in. Smoky quartz
Carries the beat of sand against sand. They reach forward,
And water curls
Over land, over itself. Its edges end, then begin, in the moment when the foam reaches
The highest point and remains trembling in the wind.