top of page

False Bay

False Bay 7/7

Collaboration with Emma McMain

2-Channel Video and Sound

Biotic and Abiotic Components of Tidal Ecosystem 


Poem Written and Read by Emma McMain

Once a month, the new moon pinches a corner on the Earth’s blanket of 

Sea, and pulls back its covers to leave the ocean floor

Bare beneath the sun.

Creatures that were once beneath the surface, rise to the top

In a mulch-pit of sand:

Dead crabs mingle with slick-leather bull kelp beside

Warm pools, home to a hundred tiny shells and

Fish that flitter through eelgrass forests.

Clam necks poke out of the sediment like

Tiny submarine scopes

Spitting out arcs of water from the 

Belly of an open system.

We humans move like baby turtles

Side by side, a shared destination that never leaves our lips

Crawling from the place where sand meets pavement to 

the place where

Sand means sea.

Half a mile down the beach, the hard ridges beneath my feet turn soft,

begging me to unstrap my sandals.

Teal-painted toenails disappear beneath the mulch and

Ankles tangle with the weeds.

On the beach, death is all around.

Rusty rock crabs lie on their backs, eaten out by the beaks of the gulls

That swarm above like the whitest vultures.

Bull kelp stretch thirty feet, still clasping the rocks that are their anchors,

Waiting for the tide to lift them once more.

A tiny gunnel fish sprawls out of the sand like

A larvae halfway hatched from the world’s biggest egg:

Eyes bulging, gulls heaving

Gasping for water, not air.

I stop at the gunnel, witnessing its drowning

My own lungs ache, or maybe my heart

And I reach out a hand.

Gentle fingers grasp the gasping body that feels like worm, not fish

Slide it out of its death-hole and

Carry it five feet to a shallow pool where it can swim.

It lies beneath the water

Gills still pumping and lidless eyes still staring

Up at me

Whose shadow 

covers its entire body.

I wait to reap the rewards of my rescue

Swim! I think

Swim! I say

Still, it lies.

After ten breaths I walk away

Not knowing if I am leaving it to live

Or die.

In the next five minutes I pass three more dead gunnels

Until one flutters at the touch of my toe,

Ruining the game of let’s-play-dead

Or let’s-see-if-humans-can-see-life-through-stillness:

I lose.

In my hurry, I left out the part of the rescue story where

I hesitated.

Worried to pick up the little gunnel

As if it were a baby bird, ready to be tainted by the scent of a


And abandoned by the bird-mother who would have come, with 


Do I turn a mission for life into

A sentence of death?

Who am I to play God and

Pry a gunnel from the sand, rewriting its story, assuming that human knows


Nature knows best

When we let it do its thing


Oh wait--

What about the rising sea temperatures and

Melting glaciers and

Dwindling streams of salmon?

We can’t step back when we’ve already leapt forward.

Deciding whether or not to play God--

What a human thing to say.

God, or in other words, Nature

Is always already here:

On the beach and

Under the beach and

In the beach and

As the beach

Leaves baby gunnels to die 

In a rapidly warming world as

Human neurons fire madly and

Clam mouths spew unpredictably and 

Snowy seagulls flap above

Always there.

Who am I to think I make a difference?

Who am I to think I’m not always making a difference?

Who am I to control the difference I make, and the differences that

Make me?

Who am I to think I’m an I?

The gunnel died, as it always does

And my every step on sand scatters an unseen colony.

We can’t save the earth by choosing to step back and

We can’t save the earth by choosing its next steps but

Maybe we can help the earth by realizing that 


As part of the earth

Are always already stepping.

This isn’t a human world with some beaches in it

It’s a world of beaches (and beeches)

Where humans have only just arrived.


The cream of the crop that


Guess what?

Even cream has an expiration date.

We can’t unstir the cream from the coffee or

The seasoning from the sea when

Humans stand above the pot, faces steaming and

Arms wielding bottle after bottle marked


We can’t learn the recipe for an antidote

(because there’s no quick cure, only treatment)

Or run from the kitchen

(because in this one-room house, the making-room is all there is).

Environmentalism can’t be an apron--

a garment to keep ourselves clean while we

Shake and stir away.

Maybe environmentalism means untying our aprons and remembering that 

We are not chefs

but ingredients.

As ingredients we must 

Close our eyes and

Use our senses and


Listen to where we come from and how we are processed

Taste ourselves for nutritional value

Feel how we grow, wilt, blossom, and bloom

Smell our ripeness with the olfactory bulbs that light up our ever-changing memory

And watch for the points when we boil over

In a world where human is synonymous with


And we are both the beast and the contents of its belly

We must, sometimes, pick up the hurried hand that feeds us and


For that moment when jaws lock, production slows, and the beast is forced to look


And feel the pain.

When my metaphors start to swirl

Into coffee and kitchens and beasts

I circle back to the beach.

Have I ever left?

Each human footprint left on the sand will

fill with a salty soup

Brimming with crab eggs, algae, and tiny grains of plastic

And by the time the next new moon shakes the sheets out,

My prints will be rubbed raw, washed away.

Because the lines between human and everything-else are

Forever stitched into the fabric

with a vibrant spool of thread--

or, in other words, the iridescent arms of a jellyfish--

that won’t hold


bottom of page