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.


  1. These photos are beautiful!

    I'm a Buddhist who loves all of life, hope you'll stop by for a visit as well.

  2. Is the anthology possibly Good Poems: American Places? I love this poem, particularly the line concerning the fisherman at the counter who says, "Last night the channel was full of starfish." What a lovely moment she has described. The word Starfish and the idea it represents has a wonderful connotation. I also like your line, "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." There's such beauty in seeing this.

    I had no idea there are royal starfish with that coloration. What an amazing planet we live on.

    A beautiful post, George.

  3. As for dead sea creatures washed up on the beach, I sometimes think sea creatures (if there are any conscious enough) must have fears about coastlines similar to those we have about the edge of the earth's atmosphere. A place of recreation to us must be a place of dread to them.

  4. Thank you for sharing this
    'stellar' Lerman poem George. Perhaps it draws one in because we all know that ultimately we are headed out to "the far and boundless sea".

    In my reading of it, the first phrases of each stanza are what caught and resonated with me:

    "This is what life does."
    "Life lets you ..."
    "And then life suggests ..."
    "Later, you wake up ..."
    "So life lets you ..."

    And there, a la Lerman, the process of life ... in a few simple words.

  5. Thanks for your lovely comments, TERESA. Yes, "Good Poems: American Places" is the anthology I referenced. Glad you like the post, and, yes, we do indeed live on an amazing planet.

  6. Thanks, as always, DOMINIC. Yes, I think you're right about this. What is terra incognito depends upon one's particular place and orientation.

  7. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, BONNIE. I, too, liked those last lines of the poem which speak of the starfish, "with smiles on their starry faces," drifting out into "the far and boundless sea." There is a reassuring peace in these words.

  8. Thanks for dropping by, Lon. I hope you will return and participate in the conversation, and I will certainly check out your own blog. As you will see from other postings on this site, I'm very interested in Buddhist thought and practice.

  9. Such a poem.
    So well chosen and deliberate and thoughtful.
    Thank you!

  10. How wonderful.

    As a child, holding a dried starfish in my hand, I never understood that he once lived and wriggled in the sea, as I never saw one alive. Even so, he was beautiful. So it is captivating to know that you have released many from their stuck states over the course of your life and cast them into deep waters. Your poetic words and the poem feel magical to me this morning, as if I have been given power to create something new today. Isn’t it marvelous, that such gifts can be passed on, as from Loren Eiseley to you, from you to the starfish, from the starfish to the fisherman, from the fisherman to the poet Eleanor Lerman, and now from you to us? How can anyone deny this circle of connection and beauty? To whom will I give a gift today in this regenerative cycle?

    And who designed that glowing starfish in purple and orange? How stunning!

  11. Thanks so much, ELIZABETH. I'm delighted that this post resonated with you.

  12. Thanks for your very sensitive and thoughtful comments, RUTH. I love the way you have taken the Eiseley's essay, my experience, the starfish, the fisherman, and the poem to illustrate so beautifully how everyone and every thing is connected in the regenerative cycle of life. It reminds me of Martha Postlethwaite's assertion (poem in last post) that there is no need "to save the whole world or do anything grandiose." We need only find our own song, sing it with abandon, and give ourselves to the world. Perhaps we discover ourselves only when we understand that we are essential parts of this "circle of connection and beauty" to which you refer.

  13. This is some astonishing information about the starfish, for I had no idea about any of this. Thank you for sharing! I just love the act of compassion of you throwing the starfish back to its natural habitat, that's great!!!

    I also thank you for sharing this poem with me as well, I've never read this before, quite nice!

  14. It's been a long time since I've thought of Loren Eisley. I love his writing. And this poem, it is so reassuring.

    "And you wonder, is this a message, finally, or just another day?' This line made me laugh because I relate so well to the use of "finally". I imagine I'll be think about the starfish for the rest of the day anyway. Thanks George.

  15. Thanks for your generous comments, LON A. As for throwing the starfish back into the sea, you might want to read the Loren Eiseley's "The Star Thrower." You can find selected excerpts at various sites online.

  16. Thanks for your comments, RUBYE JACK. I, too, like that line about "finally" receiving the message. We often feel that we are waiting for a message that never arrives. Perhaps we are all waiting for Godot.

    I'm also delighted to find another reader of Loren Eisely. I read several of his books years ago, but the piece on "The Star Thrower" is the one I remember most.

  17. I love the poem - it does indeed resonate with me. I also like people who throw starfish back into the sea to give them another chance of life:)
    The photo of the Royal Starfish is absolutely stunning - what a beautiful creature it is.

  18. Thank you so much, ROWAN, and I'm delighted that the poem worked for you as well. Yes, I am astounded by the rare beauty of the Royal Starfish. There are more than 1,800 species of starfish in our oceans and their variety is a treat for the imagination.

  19. Lovely poem. Loved all the comments too, and especially Dominic's! For what ever reason, I'd never contemplated the shore like from the other for thought. Thanks all!

  20. Thanks, KARIN. Glad you liked the poem and the comments. Have a good week!

  21. That's the most marvellous poem, George. I hadn't come across it before. It lifted my spirits and, Lord knows, they certainly did need lifting! Thanks for posting it, and also for your own sentences.

  22. Glad you liked the poem, ROBERT. It lifted my spirits as well, and like you, that's something I've needed recently. Unless my house sells in the next month, I'm off to walk the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in early June. As with last year, you're certainly welcome to join me for a few days of walking if you have the time and inclination. For all I know, however, you may be off on another camino.

  23. Keep me posted with times and dates, George. It goes without saying that I'd love to walk a way with you again! However, I'm camino-ing in May, and Carmen is in hospital for an operation in mid-June with a two month recovery period, so sadly it might not be possible.

  24. I'll keep you posted, Robert. During the meantime, best wishes to you on your camino and to Carmen with her medical issues.

  25. I will have to keep an eye out for that book - just my kind of prose like poetry. I had no idea starfish could be so colorful. I have a b@w photo of my daughter holding a starfish we found limp on the shore of a SC beach. We did throw it back but the tide was washing in strongly and i doubt it made it. But it made me feel good to give it a second chance. We visited a beach near Charleston, I have as yet to visit the Outer Banks.

    You will miss the beach if you move too far away!

  26. Thanks, MARGARET. Glad you enjoyed this post.

  27. how very lovely

    Aloha from Waikiki,
    Comfort Spiral
    > < } } ( ° >

  28. Thanks, Cloudia. Glad you enjoyed this post. Hope you will stop by again.

  29. How did I miss this post, now a month old? Well, it's never too late (I hope). Your meditations on starfish and the poem you share make me walk the shore with you as I also drift toward 70. Remembering and sometimes forgetting that Life is amazing and full of surprises. Hope you are well, George. Thanks or this post which has brought back memories for me.

  30. Thanks, BARB. Glad you liked the post, and I'm especially glad to know that I have company—thoughtful, mindful company—as I continue this ever-shortening walk toward seventy.

  31. Thanks for your kind comments, Cloudia.