Sujata Iyengar

Ave Stella Maris


We found a sea-star splayed upon the strand, its knobby umbo
Pounded almost flat by the retreating waves,
One leg broken (bitten?) off at the knee.
You ran for your teacher; they regenerate, you said, maybe we can save
The starfish, throw it back into the sea.

Crystalline ossicles slowly drying, four sprawled limbs akimbo,
How lively it blazed on the sand.
But you ran straight back and drew a circle around it, like a frame,
Or a coffin, and printed in your childish comic sans hand
A single word: dead. As though finding it had been a game.

Touch it, you said, but I feared its inward pungent unguent gumbo
(yes I know it has no blood just water from the sea)
(but what if my finger penetrated its skin)
(or what if I put my finger in its eye or in
its anus, by accident? Surely it needs some dignity.)

It just died, said the teacher, walking up and prodding. We'd found it in starfish-limbo,
Half-way to pentaradial heaven or five-fold bliss
And I didn't want to discourage your natural curiosity
So I tried hard not to take your insouciance amiss.
Instead I made a palinode, a litany:

Echinodermata—oceanic animals with spiny skin,
Invertebrate, with five-fold symmetry,
Sea cucumber, sea lily, sea urchin,
Sand-dollar, feather-star, star of the sea.