Ash Wednesday, Offshore

We cordoned the bay from the ocean and it did not contain the spill.

           O God, who created the earth,

We used napalm and explosives to breach the freighter’s tanks
and discovered more fuel on board than we originally believed.

           whose spirit hovers over the water,

Daily we counted the dead or injured grebe, sanderling,
and snowy plover. We knew that soon some would have built nests.

           who said, Let it teem with living creatures,

We began an investigation. We said, 
Oil-spill prevention has become good business.

           and let birds fly above the earth,

The predicted storm arrived. Twenty-five knot winds
blew across twenty foot seas. We waited for the water to calm.

           forgive us.

We towed the mangled vessel two-hundred miles 
to where the ocean drops six-thousand feet. Coast guard 
and naval ships fired at the bow to sink it, and it sank.

           Grant that these ashes, 

The pressure and cold sea water turned the remaining thousands 
of gallons of bunker fuel viscous.

           the mark on our foreheads of your suffering,
           be to us a sign. Amen.


The facts and quotation regarding the “New Carissa,” grounded near Coos Bay, Oregon, are extracted from February issues of The Seattle Times; in particular, Febrary 17, Ash Wednesday, 1999.

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