by Devon Demings

People live here, on the beach,

Where the sand is free for a week, until the jeeps

Tear the tents down, leaving pieces

Of lives scattered around, unjust memories –

Burnt fry pan, rusted hunting knife, prayer beads,

 

Cloth bathing wipes, lighters, matches, bent pipes,

A pop-up tent pole, mechanical pencil,

Yellow mesh fruit bag, and plastic utensils.

I smell the fires burning nightly, though they are illegal,

In a place where there is no overnight camping,

 

But living is allowed, because there are not enough

Homes for sleeping, under this blanket of city-light stars,

Where the sun-warmed sand is a sanctuary,

And hundreds come and go daily leaving strands

Of their own stories stranded along the coast –

 

A hair clip with bright flowers and beads,

A magical fish granting watery wishes,

A purple pony that leaps in the waves,

Tropical body boards abandoned at play,

Half of a stuffed pig, someone’s favorite lost that day.

 

Ice cream wrappers, nutty and sweet, trail

The tracks from the handcart the seller is pushing

Through the firm sand at the edge of the water to feed

His family, when there is no other means, and his treats

Quiet the children of beach families, screaming,

 

Having so much extra that they leave their belongings

Behind them, reconstructing scenes -

Molds of castles, and pandas, and broken fish tails,

Parts of buckets and shovels and colorful shells,

The string of a kite and the sticks from its flight,

 

Though the rest has been washed away in the surf

With cracked bottles and rusted cans of alcohol and motor oil,

Salt-soaked clothes, buried socks, waterlogged boots and flip-flops,

Jackets and blankets and remnants of chairs,

Too many lost face masks from heads unaware,

 

Weathered hooks, bright bait, rubber worms in a clew,

Ten sharp shards that bring gratitude

For the uncut skin on my bare feet, feeling

A floating couch cushion, with low tide revealing

Miles of fishing line that silence the birds,

 

Cigarette butts, the mouthpieces they’re smoked from,

Red lipstick, dried mascara, unused tampons, used condoms,

Jugs from juice and plastic lunch trays, bent straws

From iced coffee, cups from cherry lemonade,

Razor blades, syringes, hash pipes, lives frayed.

 

The collectors who walk here smile and nod,

Seeing the sea in eyes passing by,

Saying the same words to water and sky —

Pick it up before it’s swallowed by the ocean, before long,

Poisoning our planet, before our planet is gone.

Author's Statement

Poetry has always been very auditory and rhythmic to me. As Sylvia Plath said, the sound is as important as the meaning.

I live along the beach in Southern California, where poverty and excess converge, leaving a wide wake of trash along the ocean, and the trash tells an even deeper story of social inequity. The broad array of items I find each day is mind-boggling to me, representing fragments of so many different lives left buried in the sand!

I graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in English Literature and a specialization in Poetry over a quarter century ago and am a proud member of the Academy of American Poets.