Selkie: Land and Sea

I’ve identified with the selkie for as long as I can remember. When I wrote the first of these poems in September 2001 (it was September – I hadn’t realised), I was 38 and my son was two. I felt beached and grounded and longed for the sea (the metaphorical one). Now, I am 54 and my son is 18. He left home three weeks ago, and I’m living an oscillation of exhilaration and grief. I wrote the second poem in September 2017 as part of a dance workshop process.

Selkie I: Land
Morvoren came sliding like an easy birth
Between the slipstreams,
Surrendered silence for clattering tongues
And the shushing of the trees.

The air was shocking,
Entering her nostrils,
Filling up her lungs like death,
Like birth.
(When the child slipped from her
Smoothly as a fish
She recognised his shock,
The smack of air,
And for a moment felt befriended
In the desert of breath).

Duty was a little window,
A pane filled up with apples swelling,
Spattered by ludicrous drops of rain
Like someone else’s artefacts
Displayed in a glass case.
She was someone else here;
Their rare exotica
Her little globes of memory.

Seeing tired her,
And walking on feet.
At night she dreamed of the boat unhitched
And gliding, gliding …
But something held her attention:
The memory of an ocean unleashed,
Pleated ridges and the seal pup beached,
Still smelling of salt and fish.
The tender cord
Gave way to linen apron strings –
A flimsy rope;
She let it hold.

So Morvoren cut her cloth on the bias,
Hemmed it with chains of tiny days,
A rosary of small devotions.
But her heart strayed over the wet brown sand
Like an errant dog,
Returning covered in burrs
And undomestic.

The edge she walked was
The skim of a stone,
The arc of a wing,
A shifting seam,
Where the sea flung in and out like a querulous queen,
Dragging the sand against the grain,
Trailing squalls of gulls and seaweed streamers.

Morvoren knew it could not hold,
And so it was.
The line swerved, marshalled itself, came in.
The sea like a big bad wolf lolled out its tongue,
Ate up the land.
For a moment she crested,
Dancing in a veil of spray.
The boy, no more a boy now,
Caught his breath,
Knew better than to fix her with his eyes,
But often afterwards stared out to sea.

September 2001.

Selkie II: Sea
And then again the sea:
The clean and empty house,
Its objects alphabetised, aligned.
The dreamed-of sea:
Desired, the same,
And not the same.
The geese trailing their skein
Of autumn grief.
Rending and tearing,
Rending and tearing.

Here you are,
Arms raised,
A hieratic saint
In a sleep-suit;
Like a small animal,
Soft and breathing fast.
Here it is,
Tender, dreadful, umbilical:
The love.

Here I am,
Tipping like a tide
At the line of the sea
Breaking salt white curls:
Backwards, forwards;
Backwards, forwards.
Here I am,
Wavering and wondering –
After all that.

It turns out a skin
Is not a surface:
It’s what you discover
When you think you are like a biscuit
Ground into the rug.
You think you are flayed, abraded,
And you cannot do this any more.
It turns out
It is only, exactly this.

September 2017.