In Order to Form a Sea Cave by Sara Sutter

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, November 1st, 2016

"Her voice is gravel, a body of many small stones. The mouth of the cave..."

Sara Sutter Essay Nailed Magazine


On a log between the woods and beach, Marisa plays with the shoelaces of her dirty Keds. From long enough in the sun, her skin and brown hair are almost the same tone. She asks if I want to see the sea caves. There was a bonfire there last week to celebrate someone leaving. We walk down the cream beach to that part between water and shore, our feet sinking and the wet sand rising up around them—sucking, gloving. Little foot hands, her pale nails and short, tan toes slope up into slabs of calves, thighs beneath thin cotton printed with fat stripes. The sea wind and sunlight balloon the fabric away from her body and back against it, the silhouette of smallish breasts and blunt nipples, spaghetti straps. She’s saying something but the definition is in the wind, and her voice is gravel, a body of many small stones. The mouth of the cave nests at the squat bottom of a small, basalt mountain abutting the beach. The cream sand, the charcoal rock, the black entrance of the cave. We enter the cave’s first chamber. A snail shell. Labyrinthine trapdoors of duck cunts.


The ocean, and Wikipedia. Both fascinate me, and they are not perhaps so very different. Information—punctuation, data, references, history, and so on—like particles and organisms and mammals and elements suspended and roiling and shifting and illuminating, being edited. And then there are texts, such as the Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science, that dive into the literal heart of the sea of information:

Littoral caves, more commonly known as sea caves, are found throughout the world. 

In order to form a sea cave, the host rock must first contain a weak zone. In metamorphic or igneous rock, this is either a fault as in the caves of the Channel Islands of California, or a dike as in the large sea caves of Kauai, Hawaii’s Na Pali Coast.  

Sea caves can prove surprisingly complex where numerous zones of weakness—often faults—converge.


The right people always show up. Marisa pitches ahead into the cave so dark after the sun that I hold one hand out for the wall she says we’ll hit, and one hand up, prepared for ceiling. Nuances to the darkness, where it pools into further entrances, emerge. There are rooms here, there, we walk toward where the ceiling meets the floor, where we can no longer stand. The darkness velvety around my body, we lie down, back of heads in the sand, backs in the sand, backs of legs in the sand—converging and pooling in what has cracked us and passed us, from our mothers and from without our fathers, force of why we leave their homes, how we recreate that violence in strange bedrooms, conscious and unconscious in patterns like trying to turn our backs on the past but the hands of love are the backs of the hands of force, how a topic swells beneath what one says, pushing forth confession of his forcing himself in her, in me, asleep, that they made a baby of course she couldn’t keep. Confusing, I hear myself, because he had also been so sweet; what was forced, and what was placed, what needed to be scraped away, what stays, a strawberry sweater, on our backs on a sheet of paper.


As the sea reaches into the fissures thus formed, they widen and deepen due to the tremendous force exerted within a confined space, not only by direct action of the surf and any rock particles that it bears, but also by compression of air within.

Most sea-cave walls are irregular and chunky, reflecting an erosional process where the rock is fractured piece by piece. However, some caves have portions where the walls are rounded and smoothed, typically floored with cobbles, and result from the swirling motion of these cobbles in the surf zone.

A hand coming at her when she looks back. My hands on my low belly, my womb, and I see hers are on hers, and this is one way women connect, the blue-black wall in front of us sloping up and reflecting in scattered pools, word thresholds—rape, abortion—terrible attempts to contain an experience. The pools around us, parts of the body of the ocean. The cave was the mountain that now sits on it, contains it, but is not it. The cave was the mountain was fire until it spit itself out and hardened against the ocean beating it, reinventing it.

The nature of the zone of weakness itself is surely a factor, although difficult to quantify. 

Time is another factor. 

Caves in well-protected bays sheltered from prevailing seas and winds tend to be smaller, as are caves in areas where the seas tend to be calmer.


On the floor of the cave saying the hardest and nothing, stumbling onto the beach so bright it’s white and we’re part of it, a new sheet. Someone picks mint by a stream, catches a goat. I sit on the stoop of an abandoned cabin and read The Wild Iris cover to cover. A teacher said It’s a good example of personae, masks for despair, sorrow, grief, hope, transforming—it’s endless; some things you never get over said that same teacher when I called her from a Dalmatian island, something in that region’s karst cliffs erupting the traumas again, rebirthing. Between my legs, a cold carrot. There will be a fire. I will sleep near the basalt cliffs of the mountain of the cave where Marisa took me. We will fly home, of course never exactly see each other again, but the truths pooling sure as clouds passing.

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Header image courtesy of Sophie Harris-Taylor. To view her Photographer Feature, go here.

Sara Sutter Essay NailedSara Sutter lives in Portland, Oregon, and received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Portland State University. She teaches writing, literature, and language classes online and in various universities. Sara has been a resident at Sou’wester Lodge in Washington and Gullkistan Center for Creative People in Iceland. Sara’s poetry appears in Fence Magazine, The Hollins Critic, The Awl; her chapbooks include O to Be a Dragon (Finishing Line Press 2016), Sirenomelia (Poor Claudia 2013), and projects TBA in 2017.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.