Saturday, April 28, 2012


I have a special affinity for starfish, which are sometimes referred to as "sea stars." There is something magical about a creature which, at least in name, seems to unite the mysteries of the heavens with those of the seas.  There is also something magical and inspirational about the proven regenerative powers of starfish. According to the American Heritage Science Dictionary, "starfish can grow new arms if any are lost, and in one species, a whole individual can be regenerated from a single piece of arm."  This is encouraging, to say the least, for someone like me who is on the glide path to seventy, though the regeneration that continues to fascinate me is perhaps more spiritual than physical in nature.  

During my winter beach walks along the coast of South Carolina, I frequently discover starfish that have been washed in by the tide and deposited on the teeming wet sand.  More often than not, the starfish I encounter have died and are destined to be picked up by collectors or reclaimed by the next high tide.  From time to time, however, I discover live starfish wriggling just beneath the bubbling sand or trapped in a tidal pool.  When that occurs, I always pick up the starfish and hurl it back into the ocean.  It's a practice I've followed since reading Loren Eiseley's fine essay, The Star Thrower, many years ago.  I don't know whether I have ever actually saved any starfish lives, but the mere act of providing some with a second chance has saved a part of my own.

In short, my eyes perk up when I see the word starfish, and that is precisely what happened yesterday as I stood in a bookstore and randomly opened a new poetry anthology.  On the page before me was a poem titled Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman. Starfish play a role in the poem, but there is much more here; it's a little meditation on the myriad gifts of life, especially the ones that often go unseen.  I share this with you because the poem resonated with me, and it's my hope that you, too, will find something here that lifts your spirits.

                                      Eleanor Lerman

                 This is what life does.  It lets you walk up to
                 the store and buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
                 stiff knee.  It lets you choose the way you have
                 your eggs, your coffee.  Then it sits a fisherman
                 down beside you at the counter who says, Last night
                 the channel was full of starfish.  And you wonder, 
                 is this a message, finally, or just another day?

                 Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the 
                 pond, where whole generations of biological
                 processes are boiling beneath the mud.  Reeds
                 speak to you of the natural world: they whisper, 
                 they sing.  And herons pass by.  Are you old
                 enough to appreciate the moment?  Too old?
                 There is movement beneath the water, but it
                 may be nothing.  There may be nothing going on.

                 And then life suggests that you remember the 
                 years you ran around, the years you developed
                 a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
                 owned a chilly heart.  Upon reflection, you are
                 genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
                 become.  And then life lets you go home to think
                 about all this.  Which you do, for quite a long time.

                 Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
                 who never had any conditions, the one who waited
                 you out.  This is life's way of letting you know that
                 you are lucky.  (It won't give you smart or brave, 
                 so you'll have to settle for lucky.)  Because you 
                 were born at a good time.  Because you
                 were able to listen when people spoke to you.  Because you
                 stopped when you should have started again.

                 So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your 
                 late night dessert.  (Pie for the dog, as well.)  And
                 then sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
                 while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
                 with smiles on their starry faces as they head
                 out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Photo Credits: Both images were found on Wikimedia Commons. The image of the Royal Starfish  (immediately above) was taken by Mark Walz.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


To those who have come to expect more frequent postings from me, I apologize for failing to post anything of substance since mid-February.  Simply put, it's been one of those hectic periods in which travel and the demands of domestic life have left little time for other pursuits.  

That said, I hope to return to more frequent postings, beginning today with a couple of lovely poems that I have stumbled across in recent days.  Each of these poems seems to capture the spirit of renewal that is resonating deeply with me on this Easter Day.                                            

                                            A SETTLEMENT

                    Look, it's spring.  And last year's loose dust has turned
                    into this soft willingness.  The wind-flowers have come
                    up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their
                    curvaceous and pale bodies.  The thrushes have come
                    home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow,
                    happiness, music, ambition.

                    And I am walking out into all this with nowhere to
                    go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of
                    this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my mind.

                    Therefore, dark past, 
                     I'm about to do it.
                     I'm about to forgive you

                     for everything.

                                               Mary Oliver
                       What Do We Know:  Poems and Prose Poems


                    Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose.
                    Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life
                    and wait there patiently,
                    until the song that is your life 
                    falls into your own cupped hands
                    and you recognize and greet it.
                    Only then will you know how to give yourself
                    to this world
                    so worth the rescue.

                                        Martha Postlethwaite