In this middle morning,
pelicans drop like hail on the surface of the water.
This is not their usual style,
for they do not dive headfirst
and squeeze bills to necks
and swallow as before,
but merely float and dip their beaks
and raise their heads and dip again.
I hope it is not the tiny sea turtles
that we put in the water last night
that they are feeding on like hors d’oeuvres,
But surely those turtles,
placed in to swim away 15 hours ago
are elsewhere than this,
facing other dangers, no doubt,
but at least, sad endings I don’t bear witness to.
We had waited until sunset
when the birds had gone
to lift the tiny creatures
from their plastic world
and set them,
confused and stunned,
upon the sand
to turn in circles
until we placed them right again
sometimes patting their tails
to encourage their voyage
to a new life shocking in its largeness.
“What is this
lifting up and putting down?”
they must have thought,
“and then this broad expanse
that lifts us, spins us,
Courageously, they lifted their heads to swim,
only to be tumbled by waves—another shock.
What more had life to surprise them with?
First, that bursting from the shell that had protected them,
then that thrusting into a colder world.
Children squealed with glee and were warned by elders
not to step back lest they step on the turtles that surrounded us—
all of us looking backwards as we stepped,
voices in English, Spanish, French—
all enchanted with these creatures perfectly formed
with black flippers and beautiful shells.
We saw their tiny heads like periscopes above the waves—
swarms of them at first and then separate,
swimming off to their individual fates.
Fifteen minutes later, the rising action
featured a solitary pelican that swooped for one
and then another and another
“No,” we screamed.
One woman threw a rock.
These pelicans that had enchanted me for weeks
as I watched their graceful flight and sure plummetings,
now prompted a new story
where they were villains, stopping new life,
bringing back the theme I have been so aware of here
for these weeks of my daily floatings in the sea.
Every organism, every animal, every person on this earth
lives only by merit of the death of others.
When life ends in infancy, how sad, how sad, we say;
but also say seeing the full grown pelican on the beach,
bleached to bones,
its beak sealed shut with a plastic circle from a six pack
or the needlefish, stretched on the sand and picked by carrion.
Never so obvious as here, this feeding of life on life,
and never so startling as when we placed the baby turtles
on the sand, wanting to save one for ourselves,
but knowing this action had a larger purpose than that.
We surrendered them to their life apart from us,
then moments later,
saw the pelican feed on them
living his place in the world.
Oh that I, too, had acted more selfishly—
palming one tiny turtle,
putting it in my loose pocket,
keeping it safe
away from that broad sea
that has so many means
by which to claim it.
Courage is the prompt word today. This poem is a rewrite of “Putting the Tiny Sea Turtles into the Sea,” a piece I wrote four years ago when the local sea turtle reserve brought dishpans full of the tiny creatures to La Manzanilla for volunteers to assist in releasing them to the wild sea.