Apr/May 2004 Poetry Special Feature

Animals on the Beach

by Jennifer Finstrom

Art by Janet L. Snell


Animals on the Beach

On our last morning we walk
down wood steps slippery
with sand. The sun lifts
his burning head above the haze
of clouds, but there is no one
for him to see but my mother
and myself. We emerge on
a white and empty beach.
I scrunch my gloves into my
pockets, never mind the cold
gulf wind. Waves ripple at
my shoes as I scan the wet sand
for perfect shells and tiny windows
of beach glass through which
to view this day in reverse.
I believed that the beach would
be more active at dawn. I expected
hermit crabs and cormorants,
deflated jellyfish like lost balloons,
their vein of poison like a string.
But nothing stirs. We pick out
the prints of dogs, a testament
to yesterday's activity. We are
not abandoned this morning;
we are simply alone.

All through the week, the sky
was sutured to the earth by birds.
Three kinds of gulls dispute and
knot the edges of the wind.
Pelicans fly in formation, more
silent than the planes from the air base
and more strange.

We walk where the wet and dry
sand come together, looking in both
directions for anything that moves.
The cottages that line the shore
are a carton of Easter eggs,
their lavenders and peaches
obnoxious anywhere but here.
They are toy houses set down in toy
streets, their post office no bigger
than a small white stamp. But as we
can't climb up the slope of these
protected dunes and vanish into
a lavender house, we turn back
at the flag, blue for safe swimming.
Now there is only breakfast and
the packing away of our clothes and
souvenirs. And still the air above
the waves is empty and just as
suddenly it is filled. Sandpipers
skim low across the water and
are running as they hit the sand.
We have only a second to marvel
at their flash and dart, at the fading
prints they leave. Their thin beaks
flash like needles as they weave
the sun forward into day.


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