Surfing an Empty Sea

Misunderstanding our world as a machine
We have brought about an empty world.
Complexity, a healthy living world,
Reduced to water, gas, and rock.

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It’s called a murmuration
when they’re starlings.
Here sandpipers – these days just stragglers –
comb the foreshore.
No leader, no bird setting their direction.
They coalesce and fly off as one.

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Low sun on water,
Golden rocks and dun sand.


The color of sky.
Radiating off smooth water.

Scarce ripples,
Picked off in deep green,
Or indigo blue,
Where the yellow is used up.

Ripples of soft back-wash
Smothered in violet.

A play of complements and triads
Refresh the eye.
Maintaining an intensity
For as long as we can look.

It keeps shifting,
Reaches a peak intensity
Just before the sun touches its limb
To the land.

Slowly fading
Until the last ray-strikes are
Replaced by reflected refraction.


Gold drops to dun.
Dun to tan.
Still the blue,
So pale,
Just a fraction darker than the snow.
Joins blue and gold in itself together.
Not making green,
The two together,
Distilling the essence of fluid at rest.

Gulls scratch across a sky
Too calm to glide them home.
A raft of Eiders float on
Clumped, chunky bodies
Impervious to the cold.

My eye wishes the man-made
Gone from this view.
Harder to do,
As the fading light
Dulls this moment’s
Magic intensity.

A surface magical.
Carved by coursing
Energy arcing and

The sound,
Tonal equivalent to


Hovering over surface without purchase
To focus the eye.
Wavelengths too long
To capture whole.

The sky:
Clouds carved by contrails;
Colored by the soot of our
Constant fires.
Combustion so pervasive,

Cloudscape of
Meager paint
Knifed on and

Not like the water:
Fat and smooth.
Fat and smooth.
Fat and smooth.


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Narragansett Pier: An incongruous
tow crosses from North to South. A
too small seeming tug – sure they’re
powerful – a derrick-crane barge,
low to the water, covered with stuff,
stepping on waves, follows close
behind. Close behind it a long –
three hundred foot – four hundred
foot – reef-like barge, just clear
of awash. The first barge’s cargo;
drums, boxes, cylinders, and
squares, in rust red or pale yellow,
dirty white in the angled light; fill-
in beneath the horizontal linked-Xs
of the crane at rest. The second
barge looks made of brown stone
with horizontal stretches piled
sedimentary. Impossible to tell
what they’re made of, rusty metal,
wood? Stone? Close behind, a
small, red-housed tug steering the
assemblage by holding it back. The
whole procession takes ten minutes
to traverse its own length.

Action! The after-tug has gone free
and is ranging up the side, overtak-
ing the larger barge, reaching level
with the derrick barge in the time it
took to write this line. It’s form
blends into the shapes on the barge
as it ties-up amidships. The proces-
sion continues its glacial pace, a
living lesson in inertia.

It’s hard to imagine why they are
here, so close-in along a rocky
shore, on a course with little sea-
room for miles ahead until Point
Judith is rounded. Its movement
can only be measured over time.
Each instant shows little change
from the last. Its course precarious,
its speed ponderous, their purpose
imponderable, their ultimate end

Have they stopped? Lights begin to
show against the dusk. White lights
on the white sides of the lead tug,
pale pinpricks. They appear sta-
tionary now, only moving against
the waves; low, flat, tired swells
that trip in shallow water to crest emer-
ald green and white.

Each of the three remaining silhou-
ettes seem ranged not in a line, but
in echelon. The lead tug appears to
be heading more towards the land
than the other two. An out-of-
kilter air presides over the entire
assemblage; old, ill-equipped,
poorly placed, and off-course.
These concerns written in the
scrawl of their profiles, in the angles
and vectors of their passing.

They haven’t progressed in all these
lines. The reason for such a stop
here at this time another mystery.
Beach-walkers, traffic, fire trucks,
yapping dogs; no one pays the tow
the least attention. It’s uncanny
their blindness. Perhaps a million
tons of bristling equipment mere
hundreds of yards away, where sea-
borne traffic is normally crawling
across the horizon, the gigantism of
ships disguised by distance.…
Would an invasion fleet be as easily
overlooked? Tojo’s carriers steaming
right into Pearl Harbor? An alien
spaceship pressing down its im-
mense, yet weightless bulk on the
White House? Perhaps, if their
coming were not beat into us,
broad-cast by so many electronic
repeaters. Any true import washed
away by the superficiality of manu-
factured interest and isolated detail.

I look, I always have, to seaward,
puzzling at the signs, however
much the land turns its back on
them. As the lights begin to distin-
guish themselves from the growing
gloom – in an hour their electrified
twinkle may attract the shoreline’s
attentions. Twinkling lights de-
tached from corporeality, the trail-
ing mass and tangle lost in deep

They still haven’t moved in all these
lines. Sirens, blinking lights, rush
past behind me. Walking with their
eyes on their personal electronics,
muses and mediators combined,
clutched in their young paws; a
group of teenage boys walk by out-
of-place, out of time.

The spectacle engrosses from every
angle. Silent portents on the sea, no
way to know what it all means.
Attention drawn to dreads and
fears during this hyped-up season
of the dead, Halloween and the
Mid-term election. One lone surfer
dressed in black walks a white
board in the shallows, turns to face
the next wave, rides it quickly to its
dissolution, walks back out. Neo-
prene figure astride his white
mount in frigid waters in growing
darkness. Lost? Or merely awaiting
his three companions? Dark riders,
pale horses….

The spectacle looms over us all. Its
demands unceasing, its concerns;
draining, depressing, frightening,
and demoralizing; are inescapable.
No one controls it, though many
want to ride it to riches, to power,
to fame. There is the ultimate sign
of its proportions, when the great-
est ambition is not money or
power, but to be fed to the spect-
acle, to shine in its glow, to burn
with its fire, to be consumed; but
not forgotten, at least until the next
sacrifice reaches the front of the

The Aztec seems cruel in hindsight,
his victims writhing as he plucks
out their hearts, watched by the
fervent multitudes framed in leery
fire-light. I can now understand
they may have been willing, as will-
ing as we are to pay the full price
for feeding the spectacle. The cost
blithely undertaken, accepted
without complaint by those wor-
shiping spectacle above all else. The
cost, hidden in plain sight, in all its
improvised contingency, out of
place, ill-conceived, its future, our
future, precarious…. The whole
implausible, incongruous thing,
looming in growing darkness, ig-


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Sea Horizon

Why is it when I look to the sea horizon I always see the
past? My own past, deep past, when I was growing up in
sight of a daily sea horizon. The earth’s past, when the sea
meant bounty, an infinity spread out before us, enormity
spelled out in waves, in depths, in breadth, in fish, and in
vistas of an infinite world, an immeasurable globe where
each horizon rolled away ahead and filled in behind with
the promise of yet another, then another, world without
end, ad infinitum.

Every sea horizon held portent framed in the mind’s eye
by the Pillars of Hercules, portals to the unknown, an
unknown of possibility and immeasurable abundance.
Second only to the sky as added attribute to rocky
ground. Sea horizons stretching back in time till our
minds are met by waves crashing in steaming gouts
against crusting lavas cooling from earth’s first coalescing.

Sea horizons perhaps one of the first reflections of rising
consciousness as self-awareness pushed outwards against
immensity. Sea horizons that held our deepest fears,
home to monsters, doubts, embodiments of the alien, the
other to our insignificance.

In the sea horizon I catch glimmers of a far-off future
fullness, a restored abundance, the sea has survived and
replenished after comparable disasters before. What’s lost
to me is a present, a sea horizon that is anything but a
barrier, distance made meaningless by squandered power,
a sea exhausted, treated not as kin of our blood, mother
to us all, a mere pit.

The monsters of imagination made all too plain, our roles
as witnesses twisted into that of executioners. The un-
countable reduced to the last, to the lost, an abundance of
scarcity, a multitude of forms of barrenness. The weight
of our insubstantiality compounded by our replication to
give us the unbearable responsibility for such complete
destruction, in a race to see if we can take down all that’s
left as we cement our own conclusion.

All that is on the sea horizon. Too long did we fear exter-
nal immensity, praying for its overthrow by our own un-
limited dominion. As we near the dreadful day when our
wish becomes reality I look back to the sea horizon, hop-
ing someday it regains the power of immensity no longer
shadowed by our delusion. There is no bargain to be
made that takes us out of life’s contingency without de-
stroying all that life might promise. All this I see, or yearn
for, looking out upon a sea horizon.


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Neaps & Springs

Cycles train
from Spring to neap
show us how variation passes
through phases of maximum and
No extreme without
its opposite, no
average without extremes,
pushing the boundaries beyond
what is known. Finding its center,
it will return from prodigies
to the expected. The
only assurance is
that it will
not stop, unless
transformed into some-
thing else that
will carry
on the same dance
with different dancers, to be seen,
or not seen, by us, or some
to go on,
to go
to go


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This fall’s
first day
of loom.

Water warmer
than the air.

A thin
warmed by contact,
a lens,
bending light
over the horizon,
whatever lies beyond its limb.

Distant ships,
float mirage-like
just above the edge of the sea
by loom of far-off waves.

Headlands appear taller
then break up into
blips and blobs reflected,
top and bottom, by
bright, light

half-glimpsed, vertical strokes
line the eastern horizon,
reflections of a grim future
girded by spinning blades
passing themselves off as flowers,
or gannet-like wings,
as benign as over-sized children’s pinwheels,
demanded by over-sized children,
determined to hold onto
all of their toys.

Red, green,
and blue
blossoms burst from this line of
distant spear-points,
vanguard of this year’s Bermuda Race,
recapitulating the Triangle Trade,
in reverse,
overlooking that Gold Coast,
Slave Coast, where rum from Caribbean sugar
bought more bodies,
to grow more sugar,
to make more rum,
to make the merchant ancestors of these adventurers,
in spirit if not in flesh,
rich enough to continue to play
at sailing,
riding to Bermuda
in the closing days
of warmth.

A distant barge
slowly coalesces
impossibly far behind
a ridiculously tall-periscoped tug
carrying today’s slaves-in-a-barrel,
progress over the old system,
a mainline hit,
its true costs payed for along
other, darker

three decrepit draggers
mop-up what’s left
living in this local sea
while surfers drive many miles
to slice through
empty waves.

Sailors, fishermen, towboat-men, surfers,
and strollers upon a beach
strewn with subtle plastic,
microscopic flakes and nodules,
our new plankton,
discarded toys, bottles, bags.

They call those, like me,
who call out what’s looming
spoilers of the fun
that holds them to
their grim work,
consuming and destroying
the last scraps of a
viable world.

Ignorance abounds,

I don’t see
how it can be claimed.

Who is the Doomer,
when they give up on
what is looming
to push on doing
what they’ve “always” done,
watching world retract and crumble,
pushing to
do it
yet more
and more?

in their optimism.

in their optimism.

by their optimism,
of any way of telling
hope from wishes.


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This Could Be Cuba

The sea is tropical,
pale green,
frothed in washed-out viridian:
as if
by a summer’s worth of sun.

The sky is thick,
and filled
with salt-mist
hanging above
left-over breakers.

The air,
too light to call a breeze,
as warm and gentle as a breath.

A broken-off
of strato-cirrus,
pale against pale,
marks a far-off
tropical storm.

But for a lack of palm trees
this could be Cuba,
or Tortuga.

The wash
holds the wrecks
of Portuguese Man-of-War
wide disks of domed jellies
with their fronds
worn-off in their passage across the bar.

The shells of alien crustaceans,
giant sand-fleas,
on the eddies of Gulf Stream.

The rush and tumble
of the waves,
breaking on this rising tide,
forever rushing,
and always replaced
by more,
and more
rolling in from the East.

At the head of a grand conveyor
three-thousand miles long,
reveling in the illusion of movement;
as if I was progressing East,
not watching them all roll westward;
just sitting,
just soaking it all in.


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I Sit by the Shore

I sit by the shore
waves course in
the sun settles to the horizon
the light grows chromatic
and then fades away.

The sound of the waves
rumbles and simmers.

The moment renewing itself
never the same
riding fractal waves
of cycle and variation.

I’m here

I’m aware

I’m writing

It feeds me by example
by its amplitude
by its rhythmic

The Plenitude of Being

It draws




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a realm
a thing and a place

Air is all around us
ground always below

Water is not everywhere

It collects
and where it has collected in Ocean
it is immense
immense in surface
immense in depth and volume

Dense, yet yielding neither sky nor ground

Sky is a realm
but invisible

Ground is a surface
only perceptible as a surface
its extent below intuited
never felt or seen

Water is both surface and realm

It resists our entrance

It is foreign
the realm of dynamics
forces interacting with mass

It is also a place we can go
to look at it from its edge
from above
from on its surface

We can see into it sometimes
mostly it reflects the air
a reflection of
the accumulated invisibility
of the air

It reflects
but we can see into it

It has density
but we can enter it
with difficulty

We can visit
but cannot stay

It is in us
and we came from it

We perceive it
as boundless
yet filled
with abundance

It has outlasted
any other feature
of the world
but it is not

It draws us off into lists
that multiply and diverge
yet it is one thing
any fragment of which
needs no more than contact
with another
to be re-absorbed
into a seamless whole

A Sipapu

– a place of emergence –

The Place of Emergence


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She says
Pay Attention!

She barks it.

She growls it.

She shows it
through posture.

She lives it
teaching by example.


This is the only

Pay attention.

Ten thousand years of companionship.

Ten thousand years of assistance
and care.

I owe her for this.

I thank her for this.

She says
Pay Attention!

She only accepts repayment
lying across my chest
laying down her long neck
on my chest
her head
laid flat.

A deep sigh.

I now see
even then
she is saying
Pay Attention!

This time
to inside
and between.

It’s so hard
to forget
the outside so compelling.


This is the only

Pay attention.


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For a painter a surface is like the sea
Transparent, translucent, a skin, a membrane, a passage
Between up here and down there, between in here and out there
Malleable, moving, dynamic, reflective.

For a painter a surface is where you connect with Being
Where things become visible, where we see the connections
Between what is in here and out there
What was and what is and what will be.

Illusion is always present on a surface
A surface is never only what it seems
A surface is constantly changing, ablating, concreting, eroding, resisting
Like the sea it is forever healing, always changing, always the same.

A surface is entrancing
A surface is appealing
No matter what horror may lie beneath it
A surface seduces, thank God.

A surface holds us in front of existence
A surface gives us a place to stand
A skin to wear, another to interact with
A surface gives us what we need.

A surface can be the blankness we begin with
Or it can be the film of colored mud we build upon it.
The blankness might be an abstraction, an ideal nothingness
Or it can be the air out of which presences emerge.

A surface blank or marked is a thing and also the air
The intervening invisibility, both real and illusory
Made substance and then seen through
A surface is a challenge to awareness.


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