we are from the Ocean –  do we remember in our cells?

saltwater dreams by Megan Schaffner 2009


on the edge of no-breath

I dive down

to a time before no-time

when my cells floated free

oscillated in warm seas


as whales plunge

and spout

across the horizon


their ancient songs

I taste the salty moment

when hair and nails

were protective scales

feet and fingers

fused to flippers


emerging at the edge of the Bight

evolving from fish to mammal

I graze on succulent leaves

and in a flash of recognition

beyond imagination

know them to be life-giving.


Some respond to change in a once unassailed land, far south . . .

Sailing in to Antarctica by Pauline Bindoff 

Cold so visible

assails the eyeballs

and lids droop.


Breath slows,

Subtly solidifies.

Hoar frost forms

On eyebrows,


and nostrils.


But this cold,

Closing in on us

Is other to the icebergs.

Their life forms depend

On the exclusion

Of that which we bring.


Encountered now,

passing by

our warmth.



we fall silent

foreseeing the end.


In the Beginning was the Word

But here they falter,

Somehow sacrilegious –

The sound of warmth

Hastening that silent conversion

Of proud prism to freshwater lens.


No longer real

not surreal,

but other.


or make comment on silent change  . . .

Unfathomable by Pauline Bindoff

The well is deep

It listens endlessly

As the sounds fall

Disturbing nothing


In the long descent.



The well stays deep

And listens still.

Sounds thump

Clump – come to rest,


In the long accumulation.




The well waits now


Its ability to unchange

Able no longer.


Poets respond to science

Exhibitions which pair the visual arts and poetry have become popular.  Here Tasmanian poets Adrienne Eberbard and Louise Oxley respond to planktonic forms –  plankton, the wandering plants of the ocean, described in Plankton – a Critical Creation by  Gustaaf Hallegraeff, and the fabulous radiolarian forms first described by Ernst Haeckel in 1862.

Adrienne Eberhard

Adrienne Eberbard’s first collection of poems Agamemnon’s Poppies was published in 2003, followed by Jane, Lady Franklin in 2004 and the Wagtail chapbook No. 47, Phospherescent and other Poems in 2005 by Picaro Press. The Bells (Ornithocercus steinii) appears in Adrienne’s poetry collection This Woman, (2011), published by Black Pepper and was a response to the drawing The Wisdom in the Ring – Ornithocercus steinii, by Sue Anderson.

The Bells (Ornithocercus steinii)

A 21st century boy sits bewitched,

not by his own reflection

but by the luminous sea, lit from within

like a lantern, pulsing with indigo fire.

He gathers mouthfuls of spit

to lob like bombs, that explode

in an excoriation of silver,

the water, a series of illuminated chambers

he aches to enter and explore;

as he experiments with his foot,

and feels it turn to mercury,

his body flames with a wild desire

to both swim and fly.


The sea he trawls with his toes

is thick as pasture, a grazing ground

fed by the wash of its own liquid body

begun millenia ago

when the ocean was newly-born,

and by the sun’s rich rays,

its fingertips bearing a Midas touch.


When the boy is statue-still long enough

he might sense the song

of a million micro-organisms,

each single-celled and spinning,

a collective – catching carbon,

releasing oxygen, absorbing sunlight,

seeding the clouds that cool the earth –

their dance an act of intelligence

equal to his own quizzical wonder

at this bright, night, Galilean world

showering blue light at his feet.


If his imagination is acute, he will hear

the tinkling of tiny bells

spiralling in warm, tropical waters,

flagella propelling them

like whirling whips, each set of eight

a ring of promise or a wreath of grief,

an exhalation of air for him to breathe

or a blood tide smearing the sea,

smothering their own, and his, song.


He is hearing inflections now, tuning

to the bells’ frequency, the sound

cleaner, truer, and as he tilts his head

he knows they could be warning bells

oscillating between peal and toll.


As they spin closer, what does he see:

the diaphanous wings of a bridal dress

trailing its embroidered veil;

the delicate rim of a translucent chalice

to lift to his lips and drink;

the louvre and effortless lift

of a bird’s tail;

the gossamer rain of a parachute

offering flight.


Louise Oxley

Louise is a Hobart poet for whom the sea is a powerful and pervasive force.   She is the recipient of several prizes, including the Bruce Dawe, Tom Collins and Banjo Paterson Awards.  Her collection, Compound Eye (Five Islands Press, 2003) was commended in the FAW Anne Elder Award.  A small selection of her work also appears as Sitting with Cezanne (Wagtail 41, Picaro Press, 2005).  The poem The Challenger Radiolarians, a response to Art Forms From the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862 of Ernst Haeckel, is included in the collection Buoyancy published by Five Island Press in 2008 and was a response to visual art work by  Sue Anderson.

The Challenger Radiolarians

Wade through the surf. It is breaking.

No, really, it is breaking. They are heavy sighs,

drawn on a rattling in-breath

of shellshards and gravel.

Stand in the shallows and listen.


The water is cold, but not as cold

as it was yesterday, and it is rising.

Waves thump at your knees and thighs,

push and foam at your pubis, navel, breast.

They lick at your throat. Remain on the seabed.

It is the floor of truth.


The sea wants to be intimate with you. Open.

Let it in. Everybody needs inside them an ocean or a river.

Besides, you are already made of saltwater

and measured by tides. They write calendars of blood.

Your children depend on them.


The tongue is a cradle.

Lay our names there and rock them:

Thalassacolla pelagica, Acanthometra fragilis, Collozoum inerme,

Dictopodium trilobum, Arachnocorys circumtexta.


We will speak for you now

even if you put a hand over your mouth to stop us.


Thalassacolla pelagica (I:1)

This is a salty nipple. Suck.

It is a disc of wafer to crackle and soften

against the tessellated ceiling of your mouth.

Kneel and take it on your tongue.

Let it lie there melting. It is a lozenge

of exquisite colour and sweetness. Swallow.


Acanthometra fragilis (XV:4)

This is the sultan’s horoscope,

the Mongol’s frescoed observatory,

the geometer’s joy. Spin it and watch

the heavens revolve day and night like a potter’s wheel.

It’s the music of the spheres,

the explanation and working of all things.

It seems you have appointed yourself timekeeper.

Did you say you were the sultan,

at the centre of the empire like the sun,

dispensing patronage and wisdom?


Collozoum inerme (XXXV:1)

This is frogspawn, another kind of clock.

All of the numbers for measuring time

– millennia to nano-seconds –

are held here. Become the brown-limbed child

who squats at the edge of the pond

and guddles for spotted jelly.

Let the slimy bubbles slip between your fingers.

Now practise leaving them be.


Dictopodium trilobum (VIII:6)

Are they lobes of the brain or heart

that fatten like some exotic succulent

behind the perforated armour of this falcon’s hood?

Strap it against your throat; you’ve flown far enough.

Now that you’re pinned down and blindfold

shoulder your predator’s wings

and listen to the dry rasp of settling feathers.


Arachnocorys circumtexta (VI:9)

Allow the terrible vivacity of spiders

out of your dark corners. Here is one

in a halo of fractured light,

her rearing forelegs threading, crystal by crystal,

a glass pavillion. It’s a fragile and dangerous geometry.

A puncture-wound, a blister of fear

may be what you need.


Love is the great Asker. What will your answer be?


 Our Buttoned Lips are Yours – Diatome Fumi Po.