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Poetry in the Age of Consequences


This winter I found five starfish on Middle Cove Beach. I’ve been visiting Middle Cove since my family moved to Newfoundland in 1978. We used to go after supper, and I’d hunt for fool’s gold. If there was a storm at sea, kelp and urchins washed up from the deeper waters, but I’d never seen a starfish before, not one, and certainly not five. They were a pale wintry purple flecked with white.

Here’s the difference between me when I was child and me now: my heart sank when I spotted the starfish. Art critic Dave Hickey says that when we find something beautiful, we want to share it with other people; we want to grab someone and say, Look! But although I found those starfish beautiful, I didn’t want to share them. Instead, my chest felt a little tight. And I felt dissociated from their beauty. I couldn’t feel it, take pleasure from it.

The next day I read a news report about a wave of benthic creatures that had washed up dead on the beach in St. Mary’s, Nova Scotia, the day before: dead lobster, dead crab, dead mussels, dead worms, dead urchins, and, yes, dead starfish. No one knew why. This wave of death followed on the heels of a surge of dead herring, also unexplained. And I thought, I was right. There was something awful about those starfish. I knew Middle Cove was a long way from St. Mary’s, but my chest tightened again.

It turns out I probably wasn’t right. I called Ted Leighton, the retired veterinary pathologist who was quoted in the news reports I had read. He told me that the Department of Fisheries

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