Day 145 11/17/13: Poetry Mashup: On The Nature of Shark Attacks

This is a great exercise to defeat writer’s block. Take lines or groups of lines (selected at random or purposefully) from two different texts and combine them in a poem. What’s fun about this is that each text (especially two very different sorts of books) begins speaking in the cadence of the other and correspondences are revealed between music and also subject.

For this poem, I combined lines and whole stanzas/paragraphs from Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius’ imagespoem “On the Nature of Things (circa 1st century B.C.) and a 1975 book by George A. Llano called “Sharks: Attacks on Man.” I loved seeing how these two books spoke to one another—Lucretius discussing the nature of the soul and the body, Llano recounting the sometimes gruesome and terrifying accounts of shark attacks. There’s a tension I found between the fear of death and an attempt to understand the nature of existence thereby extinguishing that universal dread.  Here is a longish excerpt of my “poem”:

All the wounds were full of sand.

The rest of the soul dispersed through all the body

Half moon incisions, leaving the bones exposed

Are we to say that the soul resides complete in each of the pieces?

I dove from the wharf and headed out into the sound.

There was a constant cloud of minnows

Earth, and sea and sky and life in all its forms

From a shark’s point of view all humans must look like dreadful swimmers.

I don’t know if it was a fin or a tail.

I knew it was some kind of fish.

But things are made of atoms; they are stable

until some force comes, hits them hard, and splits them.

I saw the shark throw the woman out of the water and then I saw it grab her again.

I’ve shown that things cannot be made

from nothing, nor, once made, be brought to nothing….

The shark let go disappearing in a cloud of blood.

“Let me die, let me die, I am finished,” she said on the beach.

Words pass through walls and slip past lock and key,

And numbing cold seeps to our very bones.

The reports of men adrift at sea

imitating liquid notes of birds

little by little the men learned

As it was a moonlit night, and during some moments very clear, I was able to observe that strange figures crossed very close to us..until at a given moment I felt they were trying to take away the corpse, pulling it by the feet…I clutched desperately the body of my companion and with him we slid…

For if in death it’s painful to be mauled

and bitten by beasts, why would it be less cruel

to be laid on a pyre and roast in searing flames

or to be put to smother in honey, or grow stiff

with cold atop a slab of icy stone

or be squeezed and crushed beneath a load of earth?

When the body and soul have been divorced

then nothing whatever to us, who shall not be

can happen

Keep close to your companions.

Swim smoothly in retreating.

Keep your eye on the shark.

Day 144 11/16/13: Shark Dreams in Kindergarten

Friday afternoon I grabbed my inflatable shark head and drove to Cameron Elementary in West Covina to teach Gail Gibson’s kindergarten class all about sharks.  I was nervous. Bored twenty-year-olds I could handle, but I didn’t know about children. I hadn’t crossed into that strangely lovely world of tiny chairs, knee-high sinks and loping, floating handwriting since about 1973. But the kids were great. Cute. Smart. Well-behaved.  For the first part of the class I sat in a rocking chair (as befits a wise storyteller), and tried to answer their questions. Frankly, if Ms. Gibson hadn’t given me a “preview” of these sophisticated topics I would have been, to quote David Foster Wallace, “totally hosed.”

“Why do sharks live in salt water?”

“Why do tiger sharks eat garbage?”

After frantically googling the answer to the salt water question, I discovered that other 5-year-olds had pondered this very thing, but the  was a tad too complex for me to understand let alone translate into kid-ese. Another site’s explanation seemed too easy, so I opted for an evasive kind of truth about how each animal had a job to do and a shark’s job involved swimming in the ocean and eating the sick and dying so as to maintain a balance. I might have talked about sharks maintaining a balance too much, but perhaps the importance of a shark’s role in the ecosystem can’t be overstated.

I thought the tiger shark ate dolls and rocking chairs and old tires because his diet is so wide and varied that the tiger considers anything floating as potential food. I realized that this answer might be disappointing too, so I quickly tossed in a gross-fun-kid-friendly fact. “Did you KNOW tiger sharks can actually throw up their own stomachs to get rid of things they can’t digest? Their whole stomach comes out of their mouth,” I added, clearly more infatuated with this than the kids.

A boy named Maddux raised his hand. “I like to eat paper.”
In the second half of the class, the kids painted watercolor sharks. Some sharks had gumdrop teeth and fat, hunched manatee bodies. Others wore yellow crowns. Some kids drew menacing dorsal fins, while for others the tell-tale triangle appeared a mere afterthought. One girl begged to be able to paint her shark rainbow colors, though she was careful to cover the teeth in a wash of red paint. A few of these tykes are born abstract painters, obscuring all representation save for a furious, black scribble (the mouth), and slathering layer upon layer of wet color until the paper dripped.

The children sang me a song about the months of the year and showed me. They used drinking straws to show me how to figure out the ones, the tens, the hundreds. A boy in a striped sweater wrapped his arms around the inflatable shark head and kissed the lurid, toothy mouth. Priscilla carried the shark head like a battering ram. They asked me where the rest of the shark’s body was. They asked the best question of all: “Why do you love sharks so much?”

And I was happy with my answer: Because sharks are scary, and they’re beautiful. They’re ugly. Because they look  like a monster. They look like something make believe, but they’re not. They’re a miracle. They actually live in the world.


Day 143 11/15/13: Celebrate Whale Sharks

English: whale shark Deutsch: Walhai

English: whale shark Deutsch: Walhai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Behold the beauty!

1. Conservation Meets High Art/Fashion: Photographer Shawn Heinrichs made these gorgeous images of whale sharks and their “mermaid” counterparts.

2. Sign This: Help Whale Sharks & Their Brethren by keeping state finning laws strong.

3. Whale Shark 101: a great 3-minute video about the world’s largest fish.

4. This Just In: Indonesian Fishermen free juvenile whale shark caught in fishing net.

5. Where do they go? Listen & Read: NPR’s story on the mysteries of whale shark migration.

Day 139 11/11/13: Shark Miscellany #4

800px-gharial_maleI have been studiously avoiding a pile of essays. Here are the fruits of my procrastination:

1. Check out David Shiffman’s funny and educational piece “What the funniest shark memes can teach us about science.” 

2. Shark Legend Rodney Fox recalls the harrowing, life-changing white shark attack that led to the development of the shark cage.

3.  70-million year old shark poop offers clues to ancient fish’s diet.

4. Fascinating look at a great white tagging study off Guadalupe Island.

5.  From Thought Catalog: 11 Endangered Animals You Haven’t Heard of Cause They Aren’t Cute 

Day 138 11/10/13: Notes from a Protest: SeaWorld San Diego

1467349_701791979831073_897859947_nA pretty mellow (125 people??) protest at SeaWorld. Hotter today than the protest in September. The weather in Southern California keeps getting warmer and weirder as the department stores fill with Christmas decorations earlier every year.

San Diego high school teacher Anthony Palmiotto, whose Cinematic Arts students made the balanced, yet confrontational  film “Dear Seaworld,” walked among the protestors scribbling notes followed by three young protégés with cameras. “They’re going to be great filmmakers!” Palmiotto enthused. Seeing Palmiotto and his young film crew felt good, since my friend Carolyn and I had been talking about how to get students involved in activism without offering extra credit.

But the youth of America sure turned out today–from the bohemian kids with shimmering pink hair and vegan creeper shoes to the cute chipper girls who handed anti-SeaWorld flyers to admiring guys in 4×4 trucks and the changing roster of young activists donned the hot, velvety killer whale outfit.  These sweltering ambassadors danced as spiritedly as anyone possibly could in a suffocating Orca suit. They held signs that read TURN BACK NOW. SEE BLACKFISH. “It’s about a hundred degrees in there,” one girl revealed, briefly removing the velvety black and white head and swigging Gatorade. “But  the whales have it a lot worse.”