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.