2017 Ocean Awareness Student Contest: Honorable Mention Award in the High School Poetry Category
The butt of a cigarette sits in the sand,
sifts with the tide as it pans for gold,
sizzles like the last burning star in the sky.
The shoreline pleads redemption, yet still thirsts
for saviors to pluck this foreign thorn from its skin.
On they walk, pressing pastel-painted toes
to the squish of sand, past jagged green glass
not formed by the sea, past soggy tar-stained paper
not welcome to fish. There is gold here,
in the embers flicked from the tips of flame,
pooled in the bottoms of bits of bottles, rimmed
with the stars themselves. Fool’s Gold,
forever filled with empty promises, mined
from the ashes of an ocean decaying.
A lone gull limps past abandoned beach towels,
trips over tattered tartan print, glances toward the sky.
The setting sun paints its surface gold. Limitless.
Plastic chains bind the bird to the sand, glue his claws
to the squish of surrender, press his wings against his back.
The gull pecks at the ring around his neck, prods and pulls,
plucks two feathers before giving up. On he hobbles,
hoping the scratch of the rings against scorched sand
is not enough to stir the mussels from their slumber,
not enough to alarm and alert every crab to scamper off.
He sees the warped edges of the plastic, tinged gray-gold
by sheer human waste, whatever drinks the rings contained,
and wonders what the flock is thinking of him. Wonders
if they’ve noticed he’s gone, if they’ve shrieked his name,
if they can see him from the beach like Fool’s Gold,
glinting through the shimmer and shine
of a makeshift necklace-turned-noose.
In the first section of my poem, I address the issue of trash on the beach–more specifically, cigarettes and broken glass bottles. I’ve been going to the beach with my family annually on our summer vacation ever since I can remember, and nothing is more relaxing than watching the waves lap the shore … until you notice the cigarette butts embedded in that very same sand, and start to imagine how many other cigarettes have found their way into the ocean, into an unsuspecting fish’s digestive system.
In the second section, I focus on a seagull with its upper body caught in one of those plastic soda ring sets. My mother taught me when I was younger to cut them in half with scissors to prevent birds from getting stuck in them, and I suppose it’s always stuck with me. I’ve always thought it must be rather lonely for a bird to experience this, as birds are generally flock animals and often stick together. The plastic rings would keep a bird grounded, and in doing so, would keep it separated from the flock. Not only would this alienate the bird and prevent it from finding a mate or socializing, but it would also make finding and foraging for food much more difficult; any crabs or shellfish the seagull would ordinarily be able to catch might hear it ahead of time.
I hope to convey the true cost of litter in and around the ocean, perhaps to prevent further damage to marine life.