Published on Academy of American Poets (

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.

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


David Baker

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

Date Published: 2016-12-02

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