Sargasso Sea


The brigantine, becalmed in Sargasso Sea,
lifts her bow as a swell humps under her hull.

Golden brown sargassum slaps her sides—
a floating island of sea-holly breaking apart,

barnacles, crabs and snails all cast adrift
as startled fish, mottled like weed, dart away.

The scientist sits cross-legged on warm dry planks
practicing knots: reefs, half hitches and bowlines.

One of her colleagues hauls in the morning tow-net,
peers at the cod piece: what have the deeps revealed?—

a few tiny creatures with over-large eyes and mouths
designed for darkness and hard-to-find food:

lantern fish; hatchet fish and there’s a tiny viper
flexing its hinged jaw, baring its pointed teeth.

The scientist strips off her clothes. Pellucid waters
part for her body; she dives down deep, wide-eyed

then floats on her back, the sky burning its blue
but all she sees is red through transparent eyelids.


On rainy moonless nights in northern climes
a million tiny glass eels swept by the sea,
arrive in estuaries, dart to hide under rocks
then slowly grow darker and longer, heading upstream.

Crowds of Anguilla rostrata slip in from Mexico
swim the St. Lawrence and cross the marshy bayous,
then stretching their bodies long in the Mississippi
wind themselves up and slide into Minnesota.

Twenty years later, on rainy autumn nights,
they’ll set out again on the thousand-mile spawning trek,
called to Sargasso Sea, guided by something—
the stars or the shape of the seabed, or maybe the smell

of salt and sargassum remembered in some piece of code.
Swimming downstream, their skins will turn silver and black
for camouflage in the ocean’s depths. Their eyes
will pop out, doubled in size. Their eggs will be ready.


Two more doldrum days: she’s working the knots
remembering squalls that blew them across the Gulf:

turtles lingered there, warm in the flow
that tightly embraces this stagnant sea

and ushers in the garbage—Atlantic plastic
and lumps of sticky tar destined to turn

the ocean into a dump: just this morning
a hatchling turtle appeared, its jaws caked shut.

And where, she wonders, are all those eels
and why can’t we find just one in the spawning ground?

She’s trying to learn the Turk’s Head—an endless braid
that, like the circling current, is never done:

no start, no finish; she ties it around a stanchion,
weaving the strands together, crafting for art.

When darkness falls something winks sou’ west:
the Barbados Light calling the brigantine home .


Judith Barrington

About Judith Barrington

Judith Barrington’s Lifesaving: A Memoir was the winner of the 2001 Lambda Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is also the author of the best-selling Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art and three collections of poetry.
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