Jacquelyn Markham, “Myth of the Infinite Sea”


photo by J. Markham


                        “…the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”

Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us


The Carolina Chickadee arrives for the seed,

the Cardinal Scarlets into sight,

the Pileated Woodpecker just beyond pounds the pine,

Blue Jays dive into the Japanese tub I made them

while their downy offspring hop the garden rows.

Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher have come to peace.

Doves coo and peck and fly with flourish of wing-beat.

Oh, a Bluebird song in the distance! And look there! A Yellow Bird!

Out front a Hummingbird sucks the red bottlebrush blooms,

the Canadian Geese honk low overhead,

Egrets dance with swooping grace.

A white sky island morning along the Gulf Stream.


“I sense my limit

 my shell-jaws snap shut at invasion of the limitless,

ocean-weight: infinite water”   H.D.

I see the headline an early April morning:

my shell-jaws snap shut

Bit by bit into my consciousness: explosion, oil spill,

oil release, rig, oil globules, top kill, orange foam.

Bit by bit into my consciousness: oil spews,

chemical dispersants, crude oil,  barrels,

oiled birds, burning black billows of smoke,

oil sheen, oil plumes beneath the waves.

Bit by bit, I let it in—an invasion of the limitless.

I sense my limit .


“there has long been a certain comfort

in the belief that the sea, at least was inviolate,

But this belief, unfortunately, has proved to be naïve….”

                                                Rachel Carson


“Infinite water” is not infinite water

We thought the sea inviolate

We thought the sea limitless

We used the sea as atomic wasteland

oil and water: infinite sea is not infinite.


Oyster Catchers, Herons, Ibis,

Pelicans, Osprey, Terns, the precious Marsh Sparrow.

It is Spring! Mating! Nesting!

Sea Turtles, Porpoise, shining Yellow Fin Tuna.

Pas a Loutre, Chandeleur Islands, millions of gallons a day,

oil slides in with night tide.

Mississippi Delta, fresh water marshes, rookeries,

oiled birds, Brown Pelicans, delicate plumaged Egrets.

Cleanse the river of my soul.


I imagine myself an Eagle

above the confluence—

Ashepoo, Combahee, Edisto Rivers

where my nest sits high in a pine,

tide rises over the sandbar where a pair of

orange-eyed Oyster Catchers nest and sun.

I imagine traveling high above the creek,

island after island to the mouth of the big river,

narrowing to what I know as Lucy Creek.

I am an Eagle and know no names

only water and land—the wide and mutable

river meandering salty marshes.

I leave Beaufort behind,

crossing the Albergotti Creek to north and cross again

black waters of Combahee, Ashepoo, Edisto

through lowlands of Green Pond and great swamp sanctuary

Water Lilies, Alligators, Heron,

up a light incline to dry land and cotton fields for a time,

toward Columbia, Saluda River

still beyond, another twenty miles, by foot

a day’s walk toward the mountain streams.

I imagine this distance I have journeyed

slimed  with oil, pumped from the earth’s

center—out of place,

penetrating, saturating, smothering, poisoning.

This distance is the vastness of the oil

still pumping, pouring, poisoning sea to shore.

This journey I make as Eagle

to comprehend the vastness—not of the sea, but of the oil on the sea

amoeba-like, it shifts, patterns, abstractions,

“oil painted” images from air, from sea, from land,

disaster documented digitized infinite images

heavy, moderate, light, oil shape-shifting.

NOAA maps the trajectory as if a missile or a bullet,

not millions of gallons of crude oil

erupting like a volcano under the sea.

Shape-shifting, now the black, the brown, the red

a deep sea “oil plume” 15 miles across? More and changing,

3,300 feet deep? More and shifting, moving,

amoeba-like, separating, growing.

What do numbers matter? Numbers change as currents do

currency, how many dollars a day are lost?

How many made?


Numbers: Brown Pelican, 41 inches length

darker flight feathers on a 90-inch wingspan.

Brown Pelican plunges from great heights

to water to catch fish.

Brown Pelican, chestnut nape and neck,

yellow crown, white head, soft gray-brown body plumage,

fluttering to sea for fish.

May 23rd, 2010, a month after the rig’s explosion at sea,

oil invades two Brown Pelican rookeries in Barataria Bay,

Gulf of Mexico.


Brown Pelican dives deep from great heights

Brown Pelican soaring skies on wind currents

dives deep, returns to rookery,

a colony of life, encircled by protective booms,

surrounded by oily death

gold crown of the Brown Pelican in sunlight gleams

with silvery fish an offering to nest-mate,

Brown Pelican from the skies

wingspan more than 7 feet of grace,

Brown Pelican struggles to escape “rescuers’” nets

Brown Pelican saturated with crude oil

Brown Pelican weighted cannot fly





“tiny organisms are eaten by larger ones and so on up the food chain…by such a process tuna over an area of a million square miles surrounding the Bikini bomb test developed a degree of radioactivity enormously higher than that of the sea water”

Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Underwater, the Cousteaus’ first dive

into the “nightmare,”

bring the moving images to us

oil particles infinite, limitless

snow in a blizzard.

Man-o-war oil tangled in dead sea,

disaster digitized on screens—

atomic mushrooms

My Lai

twin towers

oil gusher of Deepwater Horizon.

All attempts: cap, top kill, junk kill, robot

on live cam we watch—all futile.

May day, May day

Memorial Day, 2010

memorial to the life that we knew.


Passerina Ciris, Painted Bunting

pair at the feeder—look quickly!

Fluorescent red, green and purple he;

iridescent green she.

Brilliant plumage, yet hard to see

having learned the foolish will cage them.

A bird in the hand not worth two in the bush.

Infinite sea not infinite.

A white-skied July morning now,

Oil plumes in the Gulf billow black—

infinite sea not infinite,

a dream out of the mist.

Jacquelyn Markham, poet

Jacquelyn Markham, poet

Acknowledgement to Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Ron Rash Volume IV, Shepherd University, 2012.