Poetic Asides asked today for a poem involving a sea creature, and for no particular reason, the first thing I thought of were selkies. If you haven’t seen The Secret of Roan Inish, I recommend you do so post haste, but if you can’t, then reading up on selkies via Wikipedia or wherever will do if you’re unfamiliar with them. When I was young, I went on a boat trip with my family off the coast of Wales, where we saw seals on the rocks in the midst of a rainy day. (I got to drive the boat for a little bit too, but the seals blinking at us with what I imagine was amusement left more of an impression, obviously.)
This is like… half a ballad. I was trying to visualize (audialize?) Loreena McKennitt singing it as I wrote.
Ramsey Black Rocks
When the boat set out from Little England,
there was commotion in the sea. White on white
was the summer water, over a bay as brown
as tea. Crystalline rain ringed the prow, the keel,
and the whole world a blind blue-grey,
as the captain called the seals.
We rose and fell with the unfriendly tides
battering our land-selves to sleep. And we dreamed
we walked on the ocean, whose heart was beating
so deep. Then the rocks rose up, the captain
turned the wheel: we slipped the blades of old
dark daggers, full of silent seals.
They’d had a morning haul-out on the heath,
until the sun rippled away. Now they peered at us,
and we peered back, to see the hummocks where
they lay. We envied a thousand inkbirds
sharing their fishy meal: we longed for wings,
long red beaks, the company of seals.
And soon, the captain brought us about,
his seabound trick completed. The whirlpools, then,
the Horse Rock tides: the white on white,
repeated. A prodigal sun reclaimed its day,
dyed the dun sky teal. And long black commas
arrowed the waves like vanishing seals.
I heard a tale once, a long time past,
of wives who cast off their skins. I could believe
in longing now, in a stormbound life
without sins. Beached again, we looked back for
mysteries to steal: when land wishes for drowning,
with closed eyes, it sees the seals.