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Nine Million Sick Californians as Ocean Resuscitation

CAS for Database

Chloe Wong

Arcadia, California, USA

Arcadia High School


Nine Million Sick Californians as Ocean Resuscitation

               Golden Shovel after Mother Goose

You put diamonds on to go swimming tonight, and what I see is a different ring—

an old, soldered plastic one, a second, deliberate mouth, a mask looped around

all the roads and rivers that keep your body together. You are golden now, but the

breaths tucked between your wheezing teeth were once far less than rosy,

and I remember clutching your citrus-stained fingers, listening to your coughs. My pocket

has held nine million sickbeds. Yours was white, water-logged, jammed full

with prayers and shark teeth. Doctors sunk you into the ocean and told me to think of

better things—the Sierra-glow that I grew up on, a fledgling quail’s soft song, the posy

flower you put inside my redwood bassinet. They said, this woman will soon be ashes—

but I replied, this woman’s name is California; starry seaside; she accepts no ashes

today. From that, your lungs heard surf and survival. Between echoes, we

watched the grey whales beach you back to shore. Between breaths, I milked all

the mussels that followed. Now see the ocean two years later, half-in half-out of its fall-

ing—salt still sits between your lips, but it cannot drown our grotto hearts down.


I was so drawn in by the "golden shovel" form of this poem and how it echoes an old nursery rhyme, lending a morbid tone to the events described. The imagery is also incredibly vivid, painting a picture of tragedy and destruction and intertwining ocean pollution with the pandemic. I love the way that the speaker personifies California and speaks to it, embodying a message of hope despite the circumstances.

Chloe Shannon Wong (she/her) is a rising high school junior from Arcadia, California. Her writing has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. She is an alumna of the Iowa Young Writers Studio and the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop, and is also a California Arts Scholar. She loves binging Netflix and spending time with Rusty and Lily (her pet cats).


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