Memoirs of a Selkie Child by Joanne Key

Windswept, Mam walked the shore

with her offerings: a chest full of gulls,

a numbness deeper than all sleep.

Wading into the roar

until she was up to her neck in it,

she’d slip off her feet,

shed her heavy sense of emptiness.

She’d wait forever for a glimpse of seal

despite the north wind slapping her backwards

and the fella who stole her skin

waiting up on the dunes.

Even moonlight died on him.

A man full to the brim with drink.

Most nights he’d beat the tides out of us

and threaten to carve his name on her,

button my lip with a fishhook.

After the storms,

we’d wander the beach or she’d reel me up

from sleep in the small hours to float me

in the gentle rise and fall of her grief.

Many a night I found her calling out

to the water in the same strange tongue

I’d heard so many times before: the language

of shipwrecks and sinking vessels,

the screech and moan

of a boat coming apart,

a figurehead being split wide open,

and in a heartbeat,

the seal would appear, his body polished

to a headstone.

Only then would she tell him our sorrows

and he’d lie back and listen with a patience

our menfolk could only dream of.

The great secret keeper of the deep.

Wise as he was, it was clear

he couldn’t make head nor tail of us:

the watchers on the rocks,

the dark moons of our bruises rising,

the black-eyed mother and child

 who followed his every move as he poured himself away

into the water, thinning to a dark ribbon

tied across the horizon. I wondered then

   if he missed her, as a loving husband

might mourn a dead wife,

     or if he ever wondered what would become of us.

If, on nights when he was drunk on depth

and pressure, sleeping soundly in the ancient

cradle of sea, if he ever dreamt of me:

a strange creature, drifting through the abyss

like a whale fall. The tattered white flags

of flesh. The years of being eaten away,

right down to the bone.

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