Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the starfish

It is low tide. Fog. I have climbed down the cliffs
from Pierce Ranch to the tide pools. Now the ecstasy
of the low tide, kneeling down, alone. In six inches of
clear water I notice a purple starfish—with nineteen
arms! It is a delicate purple, the color of old carbon
paper, or an attic dress . . . at the webs between the
arms sometimes a more intense sunset red glows
through. The fingers are relaxed . . . some curled up at
the tips . . . with delicate rods . . . apparently globes
on top of each, as at World's Fairs, waving about. The
starfish slowly moves up the groin of the
rock . . . then back down . . . many of its arms rolled
up now, lazily, like a puppy on its back. One arm is
especially active and curved up over its own body as
if a dinosaur were looking behind him.
How slowly and evenly it moves! The starfish is a
glacier, going sixty miles a year! It moves over the pink
rock, by means I cannot see . . . and into marvelously
floating delicate brown weeds. It is about the size of
the bottom of a pail. When I reach into it, it tightens
and then slowly relaxes. . . . I take an arm and quickly
lift. The underside is a pale tan. . . . Gradually, as I
watch, thousands of tiny tubes begin rising from all
over the underside . . . hundreds in the mouth, hun-
dreds along the nineteen underarms . . . all looking. . .
feeling . . . like a man looking for a woman . . . tiny
heads blindly feeling for a rock and finding only air.
A purple rim runs along the underside of every arm,
with paler tubes. Probably its moving-feet.
I put him back in. He unfolds—I had forgotten
how purple he was—and slides down into his rock
groin, the snail-like feelers waving as if nothing had
happened, and nothing has.

~ Robert Bly
 from Selected Poems
photo by nick hobgood
with thanks to writers almanac


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