Poetry: Alice Jones


Under every deep a lower deep opens. (Emerson)

Coming up facing silver, unreachable air.
The bends, tentacles, the sea inside the shell’s ear,
bioluminescent squid, tantalized.

Opaque suck and heave, watershed, whirlpool, eddy,
siphon, down the whirl, salt-bed, buoyant floating
trunks, storm-drowned trees. The roll of rocks abrading

bottom, shore to gravel, sand to silica, refractive look
and reflect. Earth is selvedge, dregs, not the swarm
of molecules, delight raised to a liquid power, no solid

can penetrate like water, overlap in lap, in lip, the other side
of blood’s map of veins, rinsing up from gill to tadpole,
crawl to land. Lightening bolt, chemical sparks to life,

shape, hump, tail-frill, tide pool, electric transformers,
the surge and suck, silting down the food chain, everyone
licking everyone with microscopic mouths.

“They looked like flying softballs,” said Robert E. Gill, surveying bar-tailed godwits, pre-migration in Alaska, headed for New Zealand. He followed the tagged birds on Google Earth, 7100 miles in nine days, non-stop. They fly through the night, slowly starving, at forty miles an hour. On the way home, they rest in the wetlands of China and Korea, which are disappearing. (NYT, May 25, 2010)


Gulf stream, trade winds, well-tempered
clavicles, the sturdy bone’s S curve to hinge
a wing. One sea-swift, before hurricane season,

sloshing drink, tilted windward parasol, so adult,
spilled sideways. Cricket test match. Exiles, dying
coral reefs, steel drums, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut

Cayman Trench. The surf-swells come from Africa.
A towel with clowns, raft of air,
punctured colonization, sharks.

just as this earth is one/ island in archipelagoes of stars./ My first friend was the sea. (Derek Walcott)

Contact with Europe decimated the indigenous population which rose again as slaves were forced from West Africa. The giant ground sloths (90 kg.), now extinct, may have survived in the Cuban highlands until the 15th c. Casino lights lure turtle hatchlings away from the sea since they navigate by finding the moon reflected in water, wasted eggs have a protein price.

Trying to follow a group of stars, sailors realized the sky kept moving, so tried to locate something still in that thick mass of light. Polaris moved only inches over ages. Magnetic poles’ slow shift, sails multiplied and larger hulls became buildable, tools, taxes and all that plotting, spice route, slave trade, long-sought lands of gold and dominion. After starlight money led the way.

Gulf of Mexico

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean.” (Tony Hayward, BP CEO,
The Guardian, May 14, 2010) Partly landlocked, it sinks to a depth
of four miles, Sigsbee Deep, left from rifts in Triassic time,

when massive continents rumbled apart, depositing salt beds.
Humid breezes, garish sunsets, flat beige sands, the perfect
place for a beach vacation with the kids, our kites flew off,

I learned to swim in the tepid waters of Biloxi (meaning
first people). We fished from the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate from the Yucatán

without touching down, they set out in the evening,
navigate the Gulf, alight the next afternoon
in Alabama. The Gulf is a passive margin, sediment on top

of continental crust. Hurricanes: Carla, Galveston, Katrina, Ike,
city-ruiners, killers, inundaters. Thriving in sunlessness
in “cold-seeps” giant tube worms grow to ten feet long.

A feature of the hadal zone, cold-seeps, discovered in 1983, are dark eco-systems of chemosynthetic communities, clams, mussels, giant tube worms who live 250 to 400 years, some of the oldest animals on the planet. Rare systems, threatened after the Deepwater oil spill and potentially toxic dispersants, which could fuel a bloom of sub-surface microbes that consume oxygen, lowering the levels for the deep communities. Eutrophication in estuaries, increases in nitrogen and phosphorus from soil run-off of chemical fertilizers, allows algal blooms, which at night, deplete the water column of oxygen. Vast drainage basin of agribusiness. The more corn produced, the more nitrogen runs into the sea. The largest dead zone, 7722 square miles at the out-fall of the Mississippi River, overlaps with the BP oil spill. (Reuters, 8/2/10)


Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this; but Death is
only a launching into the region of the strange Untried; it is but the first
salutation to the possibilities of the immense Remote, the Wild, the
Watery, the Unshored;
                                                                    —Herman Melville

            This manuscript resides beyond the intersection of coast and ocean, situating itself in the seas of the world. Melville locates ocean in the “immense Remote,” unknowable. The ocean has become a complex matrix of human experience and the inhuman and elemental. We’ve employed the ocean to join people and continents, and used it as a vast garbage dump, as if immense enough to harmlessly hold our cast off debris. The poems are similarly full of flotsam and jetsam, elements of newspaper, natural science, history, personal memory, earlier poems, bits and pieces floating through. They make use of the “shoreline” between prose and lyric, with the prose pieces at the bottom of the page being the ground on which the poem floats. The zones of ocean are described by how permeable they are to light, with the mesopelagic being the zone where light penetrates slightly. The human eye and imagination can only go so far in taking in both the scale of beauty and the scale of the damage we do to that which gave birth to us and feeds us.

0624_0071Alice Jones’s books include The Knot and Isthmus from Alice James Books, Extreme Directions from Omnidawn, and Gorgeous Mourning and Plunge from Apogee Press. Plunge was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. Poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Volt, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Poetry, Verse and Denver Quarterly. She is the recipient of awards from the Poetry Society of America, Narrative Magazine, and fellowships from Bread Loaf and the NEA. She is a co-editor of Apogee Press, and a psychoanalyst practicing in Berkeley.

Wong KwanLam 黃鈞霖