The Sea

David Baker - 1954-

        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.
 

More by David Baker

Patriotics

Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy,
   out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river. 
America, it's hard to get your attention politely.
   America, the beautiful night is about to blow up

and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops 
   is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt,
and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park. 
   It's the Big One one more time, July the 4th,

our country's perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war, 
   we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans,
spray the streets and neighbors' yards with the machine-gun crack 
   of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate.

It's hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine,
   the entire county must be here--the acned faces of neglect,
the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives,
   jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy

all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight
   when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor 
the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal
   halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears.

We'll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow
   get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others 
in the back rooms of our courts and malls--yet what
   will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war

but her family's own? The comfort of a welfare plot,
   a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers' dreams come true as 
   nightmare.
So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs:
   red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague

of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks. 
   America, I'd swear I don't believe in you, but here I am,
and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.

The Feast

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.

One cyst 
was not a cyst. One
      —small one, hard, its edges jagged— 
     like a snow ball. 

This one scared 
the house on-
     cologist into 
     lab work: stat.

Once the snow melts the birds 
will be back.
     Once
     many men were masked

in front of their
families. Were gunned down
     to shallow graves, together, there.
     Basra. Kaechon. East 

St. Louis, Illinois. Nowhere
we don’t know about  
     and nothing yet is done.  
     This is what we watch while

we wait.
Twelve little cysts 
     of snow in the red-
      bud. I watched each one, having 

counted, once more, and then one
more time, as
     the news reports reported
     and the cold early 

northern wind shook
out there the bare, still-budded small
     bush. Balls of crust shuddered
     in the bush.

Birds will be
back as 
     though nothing has happened. 
     I am here to report that
		
nothing happened. Except
the oncologist said, then, 
     benign.
     But now I hate 

the moon. Hate the scar,
though it shines 
     on her breast
     like the moon at my lips.

Forced Bloom

1.

Such pleasure one needs to make for oneself. 
She has snipped the paltry forsythia 
to force the bloom, has cut each stem on 
the slant and sprinkled brown sugar in a vase, 
so the wintered reeds will take their water. 
It hurts her to do this but she does it. 
When are we most ourselves, and when the least? 
Last night, the man in the recessed doorway, 
homeless or searching for something, or sought—
all he needed was one hand and quiet. 
The city around him was one small room. 
He leaned into the dark portal, gray 
shade in a door, a shadow of himself. 
His eyes were closed. His rhythm became him. 
So we have shut our eyes, as dead or as 
other, and held the thought of another 
whose pleasure is need, face over a face ... 

2. 

It hurts her to use her hands, to hold 
a cup or bud or touch a thing. The doctors 
have turned her burning hands in their hands. 
The tests have shown a problem, but no cause, 
a neuropathology of mere touch. 
We have all made love in the dark, small room 
of such need, without shame, to our comfort, 
our compulsion. I know I have. She has. 
We have held or helped each other, sometimes 
watching from the doorway of a warm house 
where candletips of new growth light the walls, 
the city in likeness beyond, our hands 
on the swollen damp branch or bud or cup. 
Sometimes we are most ourselves when we are 
least, or hurt, or lost, face over a face—. 
You have, too. It's your secret, your delight. 
You smell the wild scent all day on your hand. 

Related Poems

Lion Felling a Bull

I came upon a fragment, one
            anterior lion felling
                        one anterior bull. I was in a
museum so can't call
            it life, but here I felt my life come down
                        upon my life and have something to say about 
the continual downhill grade
             of the path from the ancient marble
                         quarry the dark marble

here was quarried from. First with form
            and then with stone, I came in love
                        upon a fragment and should have loved the
pressure most. I have a
             mother and a query. I quarreled with
                           my father the day my son was born and am the
father now. As a girl I flipped
             over my handlebars flying down
                         a different hill every

time. I had a childhood friend named
              Jill and an anti-carjacking
                           device called a club I policed myself
with by thinking hard of
            my membership in and a keen sense of
                          the end of belonging. I drove my car into
a house, my house into the earth,
           and I'm grinding the earth into hell.
                       I want to be more true

to the material world. The
             wild upon the bull, the chisel
                         upon the wild. But it's either true or
it isn't. How can I
            be more than what I am. I want to stop
                        identifying with the caliper or the
marble, the lion, its marble
            mane, or the meat the lowing cow watched
                       its mate become and be

the altering heat again. I
          stood before the fragment and asked
                      what doesn't want to be whole? I've never
found fragmentation as
           beautiful as objects that survive the
                       fall of civilization intact. Half-lion
felling half-bull, I feel pressure
            in the forms to conclude; a coming
                       storm; electricity

in the air; an intention; but
            whose? I saw crudeness in the ware
                       of the marble and finished in mind with 
the crudeness of something
            itself unfulfilled. And then something else
                         was exhumed in Athens. All I needed to see
was an inch of hindquarter of
             lion or bull to love the world to
                         its conclusion but a

second front entirely is
            forming. Mythology is sweet,
                          but husbandry is history. The head
of another lion
              rises out of the gridded pit having
                          nothing to do with symmetry. A colossal
miscounting of lions felling
            a sole bull. Two irreducible
                        lions made of the same

material as me will come
            upon me and the pressure that
                        made them makes more of them than it makes of
me. The pressure that makes
            makes more of them than it ever made of
                       me. Out of proportion, out of the quarry, great
pressure is forming, a thunder,
            I feel a great pressure positioning
                        me. It has no regard.