for Rachel Carson

At the edge of light in the rhythm
of the hammock, under a steady fall of ash
from Pittsburgh steel mills fourteen miles
away, over cottage and outhouse lit
by candle-stub, kerosene, in the choke
of coal-drift dusting the pond and every
leaf, pea-vine, sheet and nightgown
on the wash-line—you were born.

Through Springdale woods you spoke first
to the dawn—hermit thrush! cardinal!
consulting the starlings’ dark burble—ocean
wing-beat, coastal murmur in your ear
la mer calling you

blood-pulse, swinging arms and legs
on long walks to school—grass-ripple
breath-rise wind-fall—never-seen-
or-heard-Atlantic, liquid clamor rushing
to sudden silence—

2

All through the lunar month as the moon
waxes and wanes, so the moon-drawn
tides increase or decline…

as you, muse of fallen seaside sparrows,
gave your life away to those who needed you,
sustained your spirit in slender
crevices of time, ink moving your mind
over the sandy page

In the sea nothing lives to itself.

The great body of mother-ocean
circulates hormonal instructions altering the fate
of beings who haven’t arrived yet, lives
touching lives distant in time

spruce groves and kelp, comb jellies, grey gulls,
anemones, green crabs, whelks and periwinkles,
flowering dunes, laughing women…

In the beginning…was the plankton

Before almost anyone you heard the largest
alarms that would be ours 50 years on—cold-loving
creatures shifting north, away from tainted,
warming waters—stone by stone, the ocean
taking back her ancient coasts.

we who live today can only wonder;
a rising sea could write a different history

3

And because you loved night and water-by-starlight,
you loved her, quiet woman reflecting your wild
or sacrificial seasons, withdrawals, restorations

wave after wave of love letters, then the long
wait between, dreaming her voice by the loud Atlantic
or at your hermit’s desk in the company of oceanic
language, undulations of storm-light, she

the lee, sea-wall to your cross-winds—she, the land,
not famous Anemone Cave or Thunder Hole, but
an unnamed niche behind a living curtain
of greenery, sea-cove woman

pulling against publisher’s deadlines—beach walks
with your orphaned grandnephew, with friends…
and those lost woods on the Maine coast
you ached to snatch from developers

Instead, your gift to Earth, to generations, Silent Spring,
book of revelations—biocides and corporate lies—
grave warning delivered to Congress while you were barely
able to stand after radical mastectomy and radiation…

already leaving us—returning
to water air wind rock wing-back ash at dawn—almost
physical immortality

receding to our flat blue future
in the Anthropocene, firm horizon melting
to mirage, time foreshortening
your rosaries of tentacle and carapace

Sea Around Us, Edge of the Sea,
Under the Sea Wind

beyond our hearing-range, the plover’s warble,
seaside sparrow’s diminished whistle,
leap-tide neap-song

—our end
in our beginning

echo obeyed in childhood before you
ever heard it—echo
from fiery sea-bed—cliff-edge
where terra firma whirls
to star and foam

and time stops and you wander and everything
worth saying is being said by the sea

Rachel Carson monument

Notes:

  1. all through the lunar months… from The Edge of the Sea
  2. the muse of fallen seaside sparrows: adapted from “the God of fallen sparrows” in Rachel Carson’s field notes. (She also wrote, “before the lab, the field.”)
  3. In the sea nothing lives to itself… In the beginningwe who live today… from The Edge Of The Sea
  4. the woman”: Dorothy Freeman. Stanley Freeman, Dorothy, and RC were close and mutually supportive friends. (Always Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman)
  5. almost physical immortality: an insight concerning the whole of Life, which was omnipresent in her work
  6. The Sea Around Us, Edge of The Sea, Under The Sea Wind, her three works of scientific poetry, lushly written, balancing subjective experience and up-to-date fact, best sellers during her lifetime, but not much read in the 21st century compared to Silent Spring.
  7. everything/ worth saying is being said: adapted fromall that was worth saying was being said by the sea” from Lost Woods: The Found Writings of Rachel Carson, Linda Lear

 

Teaser photo credit: By Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51854336