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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 2, 2016.
About this Poem 

“‘The Sea’ is part of an ongoing group of poems I am writing, year by year, during my visits with my partner to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  It’s a beautiful island, about two-thirds of which is protected natural space, and several of my St. John poems try to witness both the gorgeousness of the growing world as well as the human encroachment.  Among the bright yellow bananaquits and dense forests of tamarind, locust, white cedar, and palms, there are ancient petroglyphs by the Arawak Indians, the ruins of Dutch sugar plantations, and stark memories of colonial horrors that, in deep ways, are still alive. The poem—a little adventure in (imperfect) syllabics—tries to account for all kinds of encroachment, natural and human, and all kinds of lushness, predation, rot, and beauty.”
—David Baker

The Sea

        urchins spread. They want enough room
on the seabed, along the black basaltic
jet of offshore reef, sun-pied, out-swept, or
down along the darker overcrowded

urchin barrens, to quiver their hundred-
plus spines and not encroach or be encroached
or preyed upon, pulled, ripped apart by the 
wolf eel, the next-to-deadliest lurking

shadow in these waters. Are more black
than not, and move, when they move, “by means of
tiny, transparent, adhesive tube feet”
by the hundreds. Though they prefer to stay.

The barrens are their own creation. Such
hunger, such efficient self-replication,
they tend to nullify what other lives
would abound in other seas. Black dandelions,

they’re like a small explosion stilled; or
like that red-bloomed scrub bush in the cactus
gardens near our house, more scarlet than red,
whose name we haven’t learned, flaring at each

air-breath like hair, so soft yet erect in
the afternoon burn like underwater
shimmers of the urchins themselves, lit red.
And red your foot—within a minute of

your step and cry—we tried to heal with cool
seawater poured over; and scrubbed the four
last snapped-off spines; then sat there on the shore. 
Three boats went by. A yacht. The island

ferry hauling all the day’s workers home.
Then, come night, was that a liner or our
local trash scow, far out, low-lit? You can see
the phosphorescent wake five miles from space.
 

Copyright © 2016 by David Baker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by David Baker. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

David Baker

David Baker

David Baker was born in Bangor, Maine, on December 27, 1954. 

by this poet

poem

Dear darkness. Dear where we bow our heads in disbelief.
     Dear disbelief, hardly bow our heads and
hardly speak, so we sing, such words as darkness
     shows us how on days on end. So I sing it is
not hopeless. Hurry hurry. Nor faithless—to stand
     without faith, keeping open—. Now

poem

At least there was a
                                             song   timorous of

wing-beat snowdrift ash
                                             of red horizon

then somewhere calling
                                             as under one’s breath

(I did not hope

poem
The moon tonight is
the cup of a
     scar. I hate the moon.
     I hate—more—that scar. My love waited

one day, then half
the next. One 
     cyst drained of fluid that looked,
     she said, like icing for

a cake. Red-
laced, she said, gold,
      tan, thick, rich. Kind of
      beautiful.

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