Poem: Pacific Starfish
Updated: May 29, 2019
On the middle day we saw them, As if we had to be evenly distant From everything made by man— Both approaching and leaving known Worlds. Purple, blue, yellow By the uncounted gross across a tide So low it shivered, bruised by coastal rocks. A day, a night, half a day more and there We found ourselves, racing the rising waves Around a headland crag, rough sky Heavy as the gear lashed to our backs, Its weight with us gouging holes Across the slate sands. Until stillness. And in the muffled, moving gray above, A wing beat slight in turning, ravens' calls Muted, a sound of feathers turning Down the cliffs. It was then we found ourselves, resting, Surrounded by a concentration of them, All fingers, clinging, climbing to nowhere As kelp would, if it might, deathly In their stony dreams, sure, secure even, And it made no sense, our joy At such unexpected colors—violet, turquoise, Amber—at such immutable light that hung, Pure and unknowing and unchanged.
I wish I had a picture for every poem I've written, a visual cue to remind myself of the thing that spurred the thoughts that made the poem. Maybe that's a foolish idea; the pictures never can quite catch up to the feelings that result in the poems, so...
This poem remembers a backpack along the Shipwreck Coast Trail in Washington, part of the coastal portion of Olympic National Park. The starfish pictured above: this is just one small grouping. There were thousands.
My wife Joni and I had the trail mostly to ourselves for three days; we saw one other group of hikers. We saw numerous otters, eagles... Heard strange, haunting calls from the woods. We saw countless stars when the clouds allowed. We were home.
And we were inexperienced and probably in more danger at times than we realized: the trail requires you navigate around headlands and requires you time those navigations with low tides. Had we mistimed one (and somehow we did not), I don't know that we had with us enough food and water to see us through. Risks overcome make the best memories, though.
If this is how we two could live always, we would.
Originally published on the Poetry Society of America website.