Chelsea Biondolillo

Jul 07, 2010 2 Comments by Sea Stories

Seeing Seaside

In the not-quite dark, fingers of fog move across the road, curling out of the way of my grandparent’s blue Honda Civic. In the backseat, I am squinting at a crossword puzzle, trying to read the clues in the pre-dawn gloom.

“It is still too early for that, put it down before you ruin your eyes.” My grandmother the nurse, is very concerned about my vision. I have started to squint more and more. In two more years, my fourth grade teacher will send home a note and I will have to get my first pair of glasses.  I finger the edges of my book, willing the sun to rise faster.

We are headed to the Oregon coast, taking a route we know well. After spending a night in Seaside, we will head north toward Cannon Beach and Astoria, before looping back home again.

Except to eat and sleep, we rarely spend much time in town on these trips. Early mornings Grandma and I will get up from our lumpy motel beds and walk as far as we can down the beach looking for shells and photogenic sand patterns. We try to get past the line of damp cedar-shingled hotels and circling gulls. She will wear one of my grandfather’s windbreakers, her short brown hair whipping around her square glasses, a large Canon looped under her arm. I will have on the same pair of  shorts I’ve been wearing all weekend and the sweater  she crocheted for me out of yarn scraps. My lower legs will stay peppered with goosebumps until after lunch, when the weak Pacific sun has finally warmed the breeze. In the afternoons we may drive through a nature preserve looking for Sandhill cranes or beaver dams, or visit an obscure beach park famed for its shipwreck —staying as far as we can from gift shops and fast food restaurants.

But in Seaside, we will always spend an hour or so at the aquarium. My grandparents suffer its towniness perhaps because it is the only way we can look into the ocean. From our side of the smudged glass we can see a view that would be impossible from the car.

It disappoints my grandmother that the beauty of the fields does not capture my attention, though she never gives up trying to interest me in the view. She has steadfast opinions about what one should spend one’s time looking at: puzzle books keep me quiet, yet rob me of sightseeing—she resorts to threats of my impending loss of eyesight or debilitating carsickness to get me to stop reading. From the backseat jumble of guidebooks and pinecones, I circle words like ‘glower’ and ‘thumb’ while she announces a rare bunting or grosbeak. As the road brings us closer to the coastline, drooping hemlocks begin to outnumber the Douglas firs. I stare sullenly into the repetition of trunks, punctuated by occasional Oregon Grape before slowly sliding back down and starting a new wordsearch. Yet, once the countryside gives way to the familiarity of even a small town, I sit up out of my nest of coats and blankets and start looking.

The simple yellow AQUARIUM sign has been hanging from the side of the cedar plank and stone building over the boardwalk since before even my mother was born. I race ahead of my grandparents, anxious to feed the Harbor Seals just inside the ticket counter. The barking, so puppy-like at first, echoes loudly against the concrete floors and walls and quickly becomes a jarring sound. Then their musky ammonia smell begins to overwhelm us. We head for the tank room after quickly emptying a requisite bag of dried fish into the clamor of whiskered faces.

The aquarium was originally a swimming house back in the 1920s and the original pipe is still used to pump sea water into the fish tanks. Inside the tank room it’s dark and has a soft, oceanic smell. There are a couple dozen “displays”  around the room’s perimeter and touch pools in the center. This one room is the aquarium—we take our time walking through it.  I search out the octopus amid his coral, the seahorses from their shocks of sea grass. Unconsciously, I make the scowling wolf eel’s face face back at him through the glass.

“That’s some grin, eh kid?” Grandpa chuckles. I don’t remember him calling me by my name ever, only referring to me with it.

“Chelsea, come see this starfish.” My grandmother calls me by my name all the time. “Remember how we saw one like this at Ecola State Park? Next to the purple anemones?” We look and look and look.

When it’s time to leave, I insist on a visit to the gift shop. More of a nook really, it has the usual array of tacky beach-themed tchotchkies in the forms of bells, spoons, snow globes, and key-rings. I always beg for the polished shells and never get them. My grandmother chides, those cowries look Australian and that murex is probably from South America. What kind of nonsense is it to want to buy shells at the beach? Abashed, I move away to pet the expensive stuffed animals. Then I see the grab bags.

They are all different shapes and sizes, wrapped in simple white paper with their prices drawn on them in green marker. Some large packages are marked a dollar, while smaller parcels, five, and vice versa. I am not familiar with this concept, and ask my grandmother.

“They’re junk.” She doesn’t attempt to soften her disdain. “Things people won’t buy for the regular price so they wrap them up and charge too much for the surprise of opening them.”

The helpful young clerk mentions that actually, everything is worth at least five dollars and some packages are worth more.

“But how do I know what’s in them?” I ask my new ally.

“That’s just it, you don’t know. It’s a surprise.” That word surprise again, but the teenage girl behind the counter says it like present. I am enamored at the thought of the  riches waiting behind the impenetrable white paper. I suddenly want a valuable surprise more than anything.

My grandmother is unmoved.  I try to reason with her, appeal to her sense of value. I make unlikely promises to not ask for anything else for the whole rest of the trip.

“You don’t even know what’s in there, how do you know you want it?” She distrusts these things that she can’t see.  My grandfather has been waiting outside for us, but we have taken so long that he wanders back into the aquarium in time for the zenith of my performance.

“Please, Grandma please! It’s only one dollar and it’s the only thing I want at all!” I know better than to cry—it will shut down negotiations immediately—but my sentence ends on a high waver.

“What does she want?”

“She wants one of the grab bags for a dollar. I told her they are full of junk and she doesn’t care.”

“Oh for crying out loud, whatta dumb baby!” He doesn’t raise his voice but turns and grouses to the empty air about his misfortune with grandchildren. He turns back to my grandmother, “Let her have one then. It will be a piece of garbage, she won’t get anything else, and that’ll teach her a lesson.”

My grandmother sighs. She is perhaps not completely sold on the idea that giving me what I want will teach me not to beg for things. But I am hopping around, getting more and more worked up, and it is, after all, only a dollar…

“Alright. Fine. Pick out one of the one dollar ones.”

I am instantly as focused as a forensic scientist. There are several one dollar packages in the basket and I pick each one of them up and turn it around in my hands. I evaluate each of them based on size and weight and discard both the smallest and lightest packages. I am like a blind prospector, feeling for the gold among the lime with nothing but intuition to help me. There is no guile or argument to my search: I am trying to pick the winner. I finally decide on a package that I can’t easily fit in one hand but that fits well in two. Part of the wrapped shape gives under my investigative fingers and part is solid, dense.

Grandma gives the clerk a dollar and a long disproving stare. She tells me to wait to open it until we are back at the car. This tactic is most likely to protect the clerk from my inevitable tears of disillusionment.

I scramble through the stretched seatbelt as my grandmother holds her seat forward for me and hunker down into my coats and blankets in the backseat. I am holding Charlie’s chocolate bar, Ralphie’s last Christmas present.  I open it very slowly and carefully while my grandparents pull away from the aquarium and brace for the fallout.

“Ohhhh!” My voice is hushed and awed. “Grandma, LOOK!”  I hold the thing up between the seats so they can both see.

“Well.” This is a word my grandmother says often. She can stretch it into two syllables and it means she either doesn’t know what to say, or she does but has thought better of it. Grandpa looks at me through the rearview mirror from under arched eyebrows. My reverence has knocked the annoyance out of him like a breath and he is quiet.

My newest treasure is a small resin and wire assemblage, very cheaply made. The base is cast in one piece, in the shape of three pier pilings that are tied with ropes. From the pilings, three thin pieces of wire sprout up and are tipped with little plastic seagulls. The wire is flexible enough that they bob around as though they were flying, but resilient enough to keep them aloft. It is a perfectly representative piece of cliché beach faux-art, made in Taiwan by the thousands and sold in souvenir shops on every coast in the world. And I love it. I love it without irony and without vindication. I can’t wait to show my mom. I am going to keep it forever.

They drive a bit in silence, not knowing what to say. The “junkness” of my new sculpture, as I am calling it, cannot be disputed in their adult eyes. But I don’t see it and they don’t see any reason to explain it.

“Well.” She says it again, in my grandfather’s direction rather than to the car at large. “I suppose… it was a dollar well spent. I really wouldn’t have guessed it at all.”

“Whatta crazy kid.”

“You thought I wouldn’t like it, Grandpa. You thought it would be junk, didn’t you? It is a prize! It is beautiful!” I curl my hands around the pilings and hold it as though it were a bouquet of roses or carnations. I look out the car window as the small beach town rolls past like a movie I have seen before: soaped shop windows, arched street lamps, cedar plank signs adorned with surf boards and crab nets. But now I see boxes in the display windows, shopping bags being carried down the street—and every one of them is filled with treasures I can’t see. These things I can’t see become very interesting. The puzzle book is forgotten, jumbled on the floor with pieces of driftwood and crumpled park maps. I continue to watch as the brick walkways run out and are replaced with nodding sea grass poking through rocks overlooking the Pacific, as the sea birds dive into and out of the surf, as the world hides, and then reveals itself over and over.


Chelsea Biondolillo has lived a lot of places, but likes places close to the ocean best. She received a B.F.A from the Pacific NW College of Art in Portland, OR and is seriously considering an M.F.A. Her work has appeared in the Rio Review,, and VenusZine.

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Neal Whitman

Jul 01, 2010 1 Comment by Sea Stories

For the Shear Water Joy of It:
A Haiku Poet’s Ship to Shore Sextet

took my seasick pill –
moving across the wave front
stiff winged

short day underway
five cormorants riding low –
wings tip the wave tops

atop a wave
a tawney buff-crowned head –
the sun’s green flash

a widgeon surfing
the cumber crest –
offshore winds

six, no seven gulls
cloud calligraphers –
the buffeting wind

a Pacific loon
behind the Sand & Sea Grill –
a generous tip


Neal Whitman is a member of the Haiku Society of America and the Haiku Poets of Northern California. In 2009, two of his haiku were awarded honorable mention in the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society annual contest judged by haiku masters in Japan. He lives in Pacific Grove, California, and drives a little white hatchback with the personalized auto plate, PG POET. His wife, Elaine, also writes haiku and her auto plate is PG SHORE.  Neal can be reached at [email protected]

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Leila Fortier

Jul 01, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

Leila Fortier is a writer, artist, poet, and photographer currently residing on the remote island of Okinawa Japan. Her poetry is known to be a unique hybrid form in which her words are specially crafted into visual form and design, often superimposed over her own multi-medium forms of art, photography, and spoken accompaniment, lending to the full bodied expression and intensity of each piece.

 Her work has been published in dozens of print and online magazines, reviews, and journals. She has appeared in several books, anthologies, and publications and is the author of Metanoia’s Revelation through iUniverse. A complete listing of her works can be found at
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Lyn Lifshin

Jul 01, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

Maui Bad Dream

I’m flung back, like palm fronds
in rose and guava wind

to five years ago.
It could have been this
same day. I

walked out from Hui Nuis,
ants were a necklace around
the bed like
dark stones

Sun burned thru blue haze.
In Vermont my mother was shriveling.
I was sure, like the bamboo and
camellias, if I brought her
here, she’d flourish in the sun

and wrote her postcards each day,
imagined swooping her up
from the room half underground in Stowe,

a just born, an
almost-mummy, bring her
to the musk of this
blue light world

like adding water
to dried petals,
pull her back to the living.

I saw us under the banyan,
nothing to scorch or chill

but like a rare cure from the
rain forests, the sea air would
turn her white hair ebony again
in this pineapple wind
where she’d doze and wake ravenous

Venice Daphne Run Backwards

the way that sandpiper runs
as close to the water
and then knows, pulls
back, but not
before he’s dug
into sea grass. I’m
walking out of branches,
wood, Daphne
run backwards, my own
breakwater this time.
Blue shells, sun
cupped in the arm of some
one who doesn’t own
or want to own me.
The leaves he pulls from
my skin are stained
with the verbs of someone
who didn’t see what she could.
Salt air chews them.
We dream of Nantucket,
wine in a gray wood
someday. You know I never
wanted a man just
for myself
but didn’t know that.
Gulls. Old women
unbutton black coats,
feel the light, dreams moving
in their throat like birds.
They are willow roots
hanging on under
the sand, pushing deep.
In this light, if they
were to unloosen a few
pins they would grow into
their hair, birds blown in the
sun toward cities rarely
found on maps



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Cheryl Snell

Jul 01, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories


Cheryl Snell is a writer from Maryland. Her published books include poetry and fiction, and she runs Scattered Light Publications with her sister, the artist Janet Snell.

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Wick Ahrens

Jul 01, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories


Beginning art instruction at age 8, Wick Ahrens had a traditional education, studying at Vesper George School of Art, San Francisco Art Institute, and in the studio of his mentor Clark Vorhees of Weston VT.

The artist had been sculpting whales for two years, working in cabinetry to support his obsession with sea-going mammals, when he took the plunge. He went to sea. In Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Ahrens studied gray whales during their annual retreat from Alaska for mating and calving. In San Ignacio Lagoon, a 40-foot whale allowed the artist to stroke its throat — an encounter which transformed Ahrens’s life and, of course, his work. Not long thereafter, he was commissioned to sculpt an 18 foot whale for permanent display in the Coyote Point Museum — the world’s largest wooden cetacean — completed in 1985.

During a pilgrimage to Maui, Ahrens swam with humpbacked whales, observing at awesome close range their behavior, their power and grace, even their personalities. In his studio overlooking Tomales Bay, he began hand-painting a series of the massive carved portraits, applying barnacles and scars realistic enough to match the vitality he was now able to capture in their forms. But Ahrens was raised on the butterfat of a Vermont dairy farm and could not stay at sea.

Relocating from California, the artist now sculpts full time in his Peru VT studio. He continues to study his subject by film and photo, with marine biologists and holy men. Devoted to the essential whale, he makes his own life a bridge between sugar pine timbers and those mysterious creatures who left the land 50 million years ago.

Like the national treasure artists of Japan, Ahrens produces only a few pieces each year. Completely original yet authentic reproductions of various species result. His work is represented in MBNA America bank, in other private collections at Newport RI, Aiken SC, Pt. Reyes CA, Berkeley and Los Angeles, as well as public museums and galleries. He is a member of the Copley Society of Boston and the Society of Animal Artists.

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Virgil Suarez

Jul 01, 2010 1 Comment by Sea Stories

Psalm for the Boy Cartographer

Geography is the history of my body,
Victor Hernández Cruz

Your eyes already in the slant of drifting foam;
Your breath sealed by the ghosts I do not know:
Draw in your head and sleep the long way home.
Hart Crane, Part V of  Voyages

What is the secret of buoyancy?  Lines?  He craves

to know, out this far in the region where

clouds eyes water.  Where his heart echoes,

plunges and rises beneath concave surfaces

of these opaline waters, wreaths of kelp

and seaweed tickle his feet.  What he remembers

is the path by which everything drowns, the sky

a wound, a tongue of fire that licks

the earth.  What rhythms carry in the silence?

Words muted by a constant hiss or air,

how salt dries and cakes tributaries of loss

onto his burnt skin.  He remembers his mother’s

prayer to Santa Barbara, the Saint of Difficult

Crossings, a chant-like murmur that carries

him further than these currents of constant tug,

pulling him into this recurring dream of rope,

knots, how a quill pen catches on paper,

ink from the mouth of the dead.  This upturned,

upside down world now drowns in memory.

What this boy will forever remember is

his mother’s litany to Changó, Changó, Changó,

a vastness of blue-green in the sea and sky,

mass of empty space, a silent geography

of elements, how sharks rub themselves in mock

caress against his dangling arms and feet, as though

to say we know you, we know your people.

Out here where so much of history is ignored,

those who suffer know, those who are bound

know, those who are lost know, those

who learn to float know this memory of rough sea,

a nightmare of screaming at night, a boy,

his dead mother, two countries between

this ebb of hurt and pain.  Later as a young man,

he will arrive at the edge of water, plunge in

and swim homeward toward his mother,

there at the bottom of his sleep, waiting, her arms

like welcoming tentacles to embrace her son.

Lament for the Boy Rafter

every day on his way to school he stops briefly to sniff

the sea air, looks toward the horizon in the distance,

stares at the wind-swept coconut palm fronds, their flicker

of light, and on his way home to the clapboard, makeshift

hut, he studies the cracks on the ground, counts pebbles,

picks up twigs, broken pieces of wood, fallen branches,

he reads their knobby joints, splintered ridges, like some language

of the depraved, walks home slowly (nowhere to go fast,)

and every day he daydreams of how wood floats on water,

the buoyant kind currents can take far away

from this broken island, he tells his sisters, his brother,

his mother, not to wait up for him if one day he doesn’t come

back, and they laugh at him, this skinny boy of nine, green

eyes, green spirit, and at night, in the waking of all things lost,

he dreams buoyancy, pieces of wood, an inner tube, black circles

on the water, all lined up from Santiago to Miami, and he skips

from one tube to another, a child’s game, his only way North.

Lost Souls

When the low, heavy sky weighs like the giant lid
Of a great pot upon the spirit crushed by care,
And from the whole horizon encircling us is shed
A day blacker than night, and thicker with despair.
Charles Baudelaire

Out here on the high seas, the ocean is possessed
of a thousand hues between lapis lazuli and indigo,
and on this rinkidink raft headed north, another
family prays to Yemaya, Holy Mother

of the crossing, to spare the lives of everyone
on board, but it is too late, the sun has taken
its toll on the skin, made the old man Lazaro
dizzy and he’s tumbled overboard into the water,

swallowed into the dark waters, and now not even
with an oil lamp will the sea return him, a kiss
of night and air on the full moon, the children
have stopped crying, the only sound left is breath

upon a prayer, those who say the sea is the great
mother are liars, it is the great void, a woman says,
and by morning, storm clouds gather ahead,
a welcoming sign of eternity, the horizon undulates,

sea birds flock heavenward, thoughts of the damned,
a song of the needy, and there is no returning,
no returning, only the promise of another land,
in the distance, always in the distance, broken

by so much indistinguishable, irresistible blueness.

La madre del agua

She’s learned to stay down for good,

because water fills her ears with voices,
muffled and yet so clear.  They speak

to her of this riddle of waves.  Plummet.

Directions to show her the way.

If not her, her son on a raft above her.
She looks up through water to see him.

She has become one with the hungry

depth.  Her eyes turn opaline, her hands

clutch the shadows, claws at them,
become anemones in the chiaroscuro

of this half-lit dream.  Her effort to push

him along render her breathless.

In her lungs, the water is mercury heavy
it too helps keep her suspended below

the surface, anchored against strong currents.

Her fever-ridden son dreams of her

in the star-filled night.  Underneath
him she continues to pull along, drag

him toward shore, freedom, exile.

Her body a ghostly vessel nobody finds.


****************for months he practiced on his makeshift wind-surfer,
************knew the language of waves better than dolphins
********followed the scent of changing waters, navigated
by looking up at the stars, a few test runs, a good wind

****************he set sail for the United States, the way he figured
************he’d be in Miami in less than twenty-four hours,
********the morning, when the people of his harbor town
didn’t find him, they gathered along the sea wall,

and some swore that they could see him in the distance,
********a column of smoke going up into the clouds, a tornado
****************wind, sea, sky, on the way there he dreamt of wind


Virgil Suarez is the author of 90 MILES:  SELECTED AND NEW POEMS.  Currently he is working on a new collection of poems about Elian Gonzalez titled INDIGO.  When not writing, he is out riding his motorcycle up and down the blue highways of Florida.  He lives and works in Key Biscayne, Florida.

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Rose Kelleher

Jul 01, 2010 1 Comment by Sea Stories

The Older Twin

A little boy at play
too long in the Atlantic.
His lips are bluish gray.

His mother’s calling him,
increasingly emphatic,
but he would rather swim.

Moving to old music
something paleozoic
is homesick.


Rose Kelleher’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Able Muse, The Raintown Review, River Styx and The Flea. Her first book, Bundle o’ Tinder, won the 2007 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and is available from Waywiser Press:

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Callie Hirsch

Jul 01, 2010 1 Comment by Sea Stories


2010 will see Callie Art on a NYC platform in the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. In 2008 she was awarded the commission to design the art for 105th Street station in the Rockaways. She chose Erskin, a glass fabricator located in Baton Rouge, to create the faceted glass and epoxy panels, three in total.

In 2009 Sweetriot announced a contest and Callie was chosen as the #10 artist by public vote. Three of Callie’s designs were used on the candy tins. The tins are sold in such stores as the Whole Foods, Jet Blue, and Zabars. Sweetriot is a dynamic small company in NYC, which has just launched the world’s first line of chocolate covered cacao nibs. A sweetriot is a joyful celebration of culture, diversity, and understanding ­ it is the opposite of a civil riot, which is dangerous, violent, and oppressing.

Callie was also interviewed for the magazine LX’s Spring ‘09 Issue. Her article was titled “Alien Art from Inner Space: The Creature Paintings”, they printed visuals of her work along with the interview. oil painting, Fertility Goddess is on the cover of a new anthology out, called “(M)Othering the Nation: Constructing and Resisting National Allegories through the Maternal Body”. Editor: Lisa Bernstein. Book cover art by Callie Hirsch. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. It can be purchased through

In 2005 Callie’s artwork was chosen for the cover and had the featured visual artist spread in Feminist Studies Journal, Fall 2005 Edition. She has also exhibited in such venues as the prestigious Pen and Brush Club in NYC, The Parrish Museum in Southampton, NY, and The Salmagundi Club Gallery, NYC.

In 2004 she took part in a show at the Aukcio-Ernst Muzeum, Hungary. That same year, she had her first experience as a set designer at La MaMa Etc., NYC for Smokin’ Word’s BODY WORK, playwright: Claudia Alick. Thirteen mannequins from her series, “A Tribe to Remember”, were on display.

In 2001 she became an International artist by being invited to show in the Biennale Internazionale dell’Arte Contemporanea, in Florence, Italy.

Callie Danae Hirsch

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Stephen Bunch

Jul 01, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

Inland, See

the scene
forget this terrain
is terrain, the lies
your father told you
the lies you told your son

see inland
under the skin of the river
the sandbar forming
water & earth confused
step back in this air
stand on the littoral
& see again

against that backdrop
which could be the sky
the sea
rushing back over
the prairie


Stephen Bunch’s work has appeared recently in Umbrella and The Literary Bohemian. From 1978 to 1988, he published Tellus, a magazine featuring work by Jack Anderson, Jane Hirshfield, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and others. He received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center.

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