Elegy for an Ocean Planet

after Jay Griffiths and Trebbe Johnson in Orion Magazine
Nov/Dec 2012

I’ve been down to the sea, have visited my ship’s weather
decks at night to view wondrous, incomprehensible numbers
of stars under black slice of ship. At night I’ve seen an ocean
of phosphorescent green. I’ve seen breathtaking sunset
and glorious sunrise over cycles of days—all with no land
in sight. On those days the ocean seemed vast and endless.

The ocean is vast, endless and limitless;
the ocean is not vast, endless or limitless.

The ocean is the life-support system of our planet, and the basis
for life everywhere on our fragile blue, brown, white, green globe.

The ocean is our life-support system;
the ocean needs life-support care, now.

Let us begin here, walking along the shoreline of this estuary—
once an industrial waterway—on this bay, a small inlet
of the Pacific Ocean. The stray floating plastic bottles represent
the tip of an iceberg.

The ocean is collecting our unconcern.

Global warming or climate change—it doesn’t matter; it is happening:
the retreat of some glaciers and acceleration of others to the sea,
icebergs the size of islands, a litany of rapid and continued older change.

The ocean is this bleached reef and an increasing
acidity preventing formation of shells.

The ocean’s abundance has been strip mined for decades,
will not continue because it cannot continue.

The ocean is a strip mine.

The litany continues: dredging of sea floor, dynamiting of reefs,
the careless, indiscriminate hauling in of fish, the horrific waste
of discarding ‘bycatch,’ the ghost nets entangling fish and marine

The ocean is a clear-cut.

Oxygen-less dead zones are growing, fisheries have collapsed
and are collapsing.

The ocean is the barrenness and poverty
of our response.

The ocean is a growing floating and suspended mass of plastic, say,
for example, the Pacific garbage-patch. Certain remote islands have
new shorelines of plastic wreckage brought in by tides and breakers.

The ocean is the failure of world leaders to lead, and to act.

Take this dead sea bird, cut open to a collection of undigestible
plastic pieces.

The ocean is not an all-we-can eat buffet.

Take this now-finless shark thrown back to ocean alive, thrashing
wildly, bloodying surrounding water. It supports feast, briefly—
the feast continues until it can no longer continue.

The ocean is a shriek of anguish, pain.
The ocean is increasingly silence.

The ocean is silence; the ocean is increasingly silent of all but
human conveyances—the factory fishing ships, the spotting planes
and helicopters, the cargo ships, the warships.

The ocean is all of us sleeping, sleep-walking.
The ocean is us not waking up, not paying attention.

The ocean is a series of endless oil spills, the welling up of millions
of gallons of oil from a ruptured underwater well. The ocean is these
dead shore birds and dead sea birds, wings and bodies soaked in oil.
The ocean is these shore birds and sea birds covered in oil, fiercely
resisting their demise.

The ocean is not a desert;
the ocean is becoming a desert.

It is not too late.

The ocean is an orca spyhopping, a humpback whale’s song,
dolphins racing and leaping a ship’s bow wave, an infinitely varied
flying dance of a school of fish, an infinitely colorful shimmer
of life inhabiting a healthy reef, a sperm whale breaching,
slapping its tail on the water’s surface.

The ocean is an abundance that is our—and life’s—birthright.
The ocean is our birthright, ours to shepherd and heal.

The ocean’s demise will be our demise.

Now, take this sea shell—listen: the ocean calls us, calls on us
to resist its demise.

Andrew Shattuck McBride
PaPoWriMo ~ 2012 *Day 28 Poem*
October 30, 2012

About Andrew Shattuck McBride

I am a writer, editor, writing coach, and consultant. I work in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and creative non-fiction. I also have a couple of novels simmering on back burners. THANK YOU to Nan Macy of Village Books for taking this photo (June 2011).
This entry was posted in Activism, Andrew Shattuck McBride Writer, Can We Talk?, PaPoWriMo ~ 2012, Samples, Transformation. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Elegy for an Ocean Planet

  1. sonofwalt says:

    You are killing me with these this week. I don’t even know where to begin. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Thank you very much. I’m grateful for your comments and validation.

    I recommend reading “The Fisher King,” a piece by Jay Griffiths in the November / December 2012 issue of Orion Magazine. It’s in the magazine’s online content. Orion Magazine is a fine environmental journal.


    Jay Griffiths also refers to a book by Callum Roberts titled The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea (2012). Roberts is described as the Rachel Carson of the Oceans. Here’s a link:


    I’ve been very concerned about the fate of our oceans for a long time. Griffiths’ article lasered in on just how bad the situation is getting. Her article inspired me to write this “Elegy for an Ocean Planet.”

    Thanks again, and all the best to you and yours, Andy

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