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