a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
coastline disappearing more quickly than expected. Tongues of rock pool salivate & froth-fill. No sunflower stars appear. A wild encounter with the largest & fastest asteroid, Queen of the Intertidal, is a quixotic chase.
I have arrived too late. The water
will not wait. Rubber boots slip
above cliff & crevice as the path narrows.
Ever older, I fear death & disease
& the pitch of this planetary ladder.
Is hope landlocked? Survival—I search
for a creature that carries the key.
Have you seen any sea stars? I cast my voice into the gathering wind. A passing elder is sure footed but smiles sadly. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Still swimming above the rise, a red throated loon dips its head under.
The direction I was heading in has been erased. The pine-lined island is no longer reachable—its slivered beach buried. I watch a girl descend from the far-off stairwell. Her silhouette freezes on the last concrete stone & for a moment she burns golden.
A buoy rings like the dinner bell momma wristed into sound. Again, I am past due for something. The ting is hypnotic & strange, singing warnings. As the sand shows her just washed face, people stroll. What stays underfoot stays forgotten.
The Science Center is weather-worn.
An Aquarist scratches her freckles
& ushers me (reluctantly) to storage.
Off display, a sunflower star clings
to its shallow holding tank. The room
swelters noisome, cooked by early summer.
Look hard & long & good: the survivor’s scat brown, meaty center gives way to orange-ray, then grape limbs gloop around transplanted nature. Her blood is sea water, no brain, but tube touch & skeletal dots that line twenty-four arms—a miracle of symmetry.
Watch how I block her light: my shadow casts no color. Searching for my softness, she cannot find its features. Our sight shares ancestral structures, but from the algal plastic, she is unconvinced of evolution. Stars melt in only one day.
Diseased, they dissolve, shrivel,
contort, lesion, flatten, detach (arms crawl away),
expose the internal & in premature
end-times, waste. Bodies pile below.
Her hunger. Most stars starve slowly
in captivity. With nowhere to scavenge,
lab grown babies flip belly up, knowing
when hands feed. Here, bottom-shelf
isolation. She feels pain, but what of loneliness?
I want a moment, just the two of us,
but I am too timid to ask before
somehow, it’s time to leave.
On the drive home, I steer the rusted muffler. The lost child remembers. Ten-year-old me spills soda on a sunflower patterned tee, singing Me Gusta la Playa in the Isuzu’s backseat. Wishing to be a marine biologist, I have never seen sea stars’ spiked marmalade bodies. On vacation, a starless touch tank & one dolphin trained to pull me along her perimeter.
Millions ago, star families crossed the threshold. Existence. Sea floor spread: lifted marine mountains: covered continents. As quickly as the waters rose, they fell—shallows & ice sheets. Sea stars survived glacial extinction. Colonies froze; shells flipped & fell; eel elders sank; coral bleached; the aquatic fossilized.
A piece of constellation Aquila
is dying, scattering into space.
Radial lobes of stellar dust smolder
a sea star shape. Ghostly: no need
for a telescope. Ghostly: be blue
Wake—today is a storm. A sunflower star is still out there, not afraid or fragile, but in danger. Unstable peaks crest over the Pacific as its innards brew. Spun & spit sand distill downward & the stout star shelters. In the oceans, all life is exposed.
Young sun atrophies.
Stars know day from dark
like you & I should know
right from wrong.
To a familiar rock she clings. Canopy of kelp sways like flowering hair, like the drowned woman rumored to be preserved a few miles inland. Lady of The Lake. Lady of The Ages.
The surge zone wails: tattered squalls: elemental brawl: fracas call. This sun star senses what is alive or soon to be dead.
terns egrets herons
sea lions otters
bristle worms scud snails the most brittle stars.
Sunflower stars never sleep—eyes remain open & almost invisible. Ruby as my birthtown’s smallest gemstones, they regenerate & find the way home. Can we believe in the holiness of arms outstretched, sensing what’s ahead? At a certain depth—
A daughter of Appalachia, Holly Marie’s poetry is often narrative in nature and raises marginalized voices of both the human and non-human world. Celebrating rural landscapes and culture, she seeks to represent that which is stereotyped, commodified or voiceless. Her work as a writing-based therapist also inspires themes of mental health, interconnectedness, gender roles and family systems. Holly Marie’s poetry has been published by W.W. Norton & Company and Sixfold Magazine. She is the recipient of the Rona Jaffe Fellowship for Creative Writing, the Kratz Fellowship in Creative Writing and winner of The Attic Institute’s Civic Saturday Poetry Contest, among others. She splits her time between the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and Asheville, North Carolina, where she is a MFA student at Warren Wilson’s Program for Writers. Currently, she is learning book arts and believes in the power of ink on paper.