The Gulf of California

By Anita Endrezze b. 1952 Anita Endrezze
There are two memories of tides:
one for the deep blackness that split
away from the mother sea
and one for sea that found itself
in the daybreaks of rivers.
Yet it was all one sea
tracked by comets and the Elegant Tern,
seals in speckled pod-shaped skins,
and whales, opening their small eyes
when the hands of people drew fish
out of the salt.

Geologists tell us that the sea split
millions of years ago
before the Yoemem, Yoremem,
Kunkaak, O-Otam
curled their tongues around the names
of themselves and raised the conch shell
to their lips, so that the sound of nature
became human, too:

kalifornia vaawe

Then the sea was measured
and divided into leagues.
The Spanish ships called it dangerous
because the sea tore in two ways,
tide and rivers,
so they contained it in maps
written on dead animal skins
with ink made from dried octopus blood

Mar de la Kalifornia
Golfo de California

Then it was named the Vermilion Sea
when the red-shelled crabs clicked in the waters.
It was the Sea of Cortés
because it’s the right of the Conqueror
to claim the world in his name.

It’s his right to name hunger after himself
and to take away rivers
and children
and to give back the bare bones
of life
in the Queen’s name.

What can you say about men
who name the mountains “mother”
when the worst curse they can shout
defiles their mother
in the act of creation?

Now we call the Gulf of California
with the pesticides of fields
and the wastes of factories.
And the voices of the fin-backed whale,
sardines, sea-kelp, anemone,
and turtle are quieter,
so that we have less memory
of the way it was
and less hope
for the way it will be.

In the winter I eat strawberries
from Mexico
and oranges, sectioned and split
on my north continental plate.
I don’t know much about my relatives
picking the fields near Bacum, Torim.
I don’t know much about the spiny sea urchin,
except that it knows more than I
about the sea, the sea that names itself
movable horizon.

Anita Endrezze, “The Gulf of California” from Throwing Fire at the Sun, Water at the Moon. Copyright © 2000 by Anita Endrezze. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: Throwing Fire at the Sun Water at the Moon (University of Arizona Press, 2000)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Anita Endrezze b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Social Commentaries, History & Politics


Anita Endrezze is Yaqui on her father’s side and of European descent—Italian, Slovenian, and German-Romanian—on her mother’s. She was born in Long Beach, California, and lives in Washington. Endrezze received a BA in secondary education with minors in art and Spanish and an MA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University. A poet and short-story writer, she has written books including The north people (1983), at the . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.