My sister cries the sea

Pamela Mordecai

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My sister is crying and crying

her tears grow to salt stormy showers

to rain and to rapids and rivers

they run to the sea to the sea.

 

My sister sobs softly she knows

she listens at shells and the shoals

she hears from fish sleeping at nightfall

she gathers from mushrooms and moulds.

 

Hears walking fish clear at Mayaro

black eyes popping out of their heads:

“The wind it gone out of the water

the sea things is tarred to their beds.”

 

Hears lichen and moss at Newcastle

as tree things brown up and go dry:

“The poisons them capture the air waves!

The land and the sea going to die.”

 

My sister is crying and crying

Her tears have joined up with the tide.

The shells and shallows have vanished.

The earth and the heavens divide.

Pamela Mordecai, "My sister cries the sea" from Certifiable. Copyright © 2001 by Pamela Mordecai. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Source: Certifiable (Goose Lane Editions, 2001)

Dive in: 
  1. What’s different about the words in this poem that are contained in quotation marks and those that are not? (Hint: look at the grammar.)
     
  2. Is it significant that fish, lichen and moss — things from the natural world — speak in creole, where the poem’s speaker does not? What does this say about the poet? Or the natural world?
     
  3. Who do you think the speaker’s sister is? Is she a person or a personification?
     
  4. What devices hold this poem together and make it feel like a whole?
     
  5. If you were reciting this poem, how would you make the voices of the fish and other natural creatures distinct? Or would you?
     
  6. Is this an ecological poem? What would that even mean?
     
  7. Writing activity: In the spirit to of this poem, try to get a human voice and the voice of an animal, plant, or terrain feature into dialogue. Would both speakers speak, or would the conversation go one way? How would a capybara sound? A fossil? A volcano? Krill?  The ENSO current?

 

Links:

1. There really are walking fish. They were a critical link in evolution, the first amphibians who left the sea to live on land. Mudskippers like these discussed here remind us that the oceans and the land masses are conjoined environments for life.

 

2. Here is the place in the Judeo-Christian cosmogony (creation myth) in which “the earth and the heavens divide.” Here it seems like a good thing, unlike in this poem.

 

King James Bible, Genesis 1. 6-9

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

 

3. She sells seashells by the sea shore. Say that ten times fast. It’s a tongue twister about sibilance, the sound of the letter S.  Sibilance is a key to this poem. Some other tongue twisters: https://www.smart-words.org/tongue-twisters.html

 

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