17 Santa Cruz Poets — The 17th Annual National Poetry Month - 2012 PreviousNextHome


Debra Spencer

Debra Spencer

About Debra:

Debra Spencer invented her own alphabet when she was three.  She wrote her first book in the second grade and went on to earn a BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1972 and an MA from San Jose State University in 1988, where she won the Anne Lillis Memorial Scholarship for Poetry.  In her desk she keeps a Bart Giammati baseball card, a fossilized shark’s tooth, the tuning key to an Anglian harp, and a piece of the Berlin Wall.  She works at Cabrillo College as a learning disabilities specialist, and sings with Community Music School of Santa Cruz. Her first collection of poems is Pomegranate (Hummingbird Press, 2004).


I heard a song about cinnamon,
got hungry to suck its peeled bark,
to feel the bite of distant spice on my tongue,
and my hunger drove me down to the sea
where I took ship as a common sailor
and for weeks sucked hardtack, swabbed decks,
stared toward the horizon.  At night, sniffing the wind,

I sang with the crew, then heard in my dreams
strange tunes played through a reeded brass,
a metal mermaid calling me out of my skin,
the voice of the horizon--but only woke
to the scrape of keel on sand,
a rumble of wooden wheels,
the smell of salt cod stewed
on a seaweed fire.  In the new land

all the work was done down mines,
so I took up a pick and swung it
and swung it and swung it, and one day
held in my hand a nugget, a yearning
for a country not overrun
with sailors turned miners,
for a land more treed than peopled.
I heard a new song that went

If what you want you can’t find,
and what you find you can’t love,
then let what you love

drive you down to the sea.

The Niña

When his bulky flagship
the Santa Maria
ran aground on Hispaniola, Columbus

boarded this much smaller ship, and on it
sailed home from the New World.
When we walk the replica’s

rolling deck, we marvel
at the captain’s hole,
a room seven feet cubed

from which Columbus ruled
the Niña and the sea.
It’s not unlike our house,

where a nook
is as good as a ballroom,
where out the window

the sky stretches wide
and from it
sweeps a breeze that fills

the sails of the mind.
All we need
is what fits without crowding,

what packs meaning into matter,
what drops into the drawer
like a long-lost sock.

Oprah Endorses the Ocean

Gazing steadily into the camera, she speaks from the heart.  “The waves,” she says, “are cleansing.  The sand is a comfort.  And then, the sky!”  Oprah advocates excursions to the beach.  She devotes a series of shows to discussions of which beach is best.  Coney Island?  Malibu? West Palm?  All week, expert panels engage in debate, with Oprah’s studio audience chiming in.  Slowly, the middle of the country empties, as Americans abandon the heartland for the coast, causing a housing crisis.  Department stores report a shortage of bathing suits.

Oprah and her crew embark on visits to major aquariums.  America learns to recognize the lantern fish, the deadly sea wasp, and a series of eerie jellies.  Oprah visits an artist who turns sand into glass.  Oprah tells her audience, “You see me through lenses that used to be sand.”  This makes her feel even more deeply connected to the ocean. 

In California, a hundred thousand people arrive at Castle Beach with ice chests, barbecues, sand chairs, giant umbrellas, charcoal briquettes, hot dogs, and sunscreen.  Panicked officials call in the National Guard.  From East Cliff Drive, news cameras from major networks pan the overflowing trash cans. 

Broadcasting now from her mansion in Montecito, Oprah concludes her endorsement of the ocean.  She loves its repetition, its unpredictability, its viciousness, its sublime caress.  “The sea is a precious resource,” she tells her viewers.  “It is the key to life on this planet.”  She says that visiting the ocean is fundamental to the health of all human beings.  “The beach will heal us,” she tells us.  “It’s a good place to be alone.”

Ancheta || Atkinson || Crux || Dancing Bear || Freeman || Glick || Ifland || Moody || Omosupe || Robbins || Sirens || Spencer || Sullivan || Sumrall || Tagami || Teutsch || Weisner
  Co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz and phren-Z   A publication of Santa Cruz Writes