a journal of fantastical poetry

Marrying the Selchie

by Devon Miller-Duggan

Selchie: Faroese, Icelandic, Scottish, Irish folklore. They can shed their skins from 
seals to become human. Stories concerning Selchies are generally romantic tragedies.

Of course I went down to the strand
and wept the proper seven tears into the sea.
Then he rose, my seal-love, and lay with me for
seven months, telling me many things:

Selchie women must marry the men who hold their skins,
and selchie men must return to the sea for seven years
(the child will be seven when it meets its father if
its father does not call it to the waves before, or if
it does not seek the water on its own).

They can call any and all of us at midsummer.

How the selchie wife saved her husband from the storm,
but having taken her selchie skin again to do so
could never return to land.

How the islander who slew his selchie lover's seal-husband
was drowned, and the men of his island cursed by her
to go on drowning
until enough of them lay down in the sea to circle the island.

You should take these things to your heart as well.

Of course they must leave their skins:
Those are the skins that know,
that belong to,
that taste,
that recognize the water and the rocks.
See, they cannot be on land if their skins
cannot love the air.
They couldn't bear proximity to fire
in their seals' skins, or eat cooked food,
of hear the separated,
knife-cut sounds of human speech.

Smell? That stays the same, I think—
and sight. Some things
he would not tell me. You might ask the other wives.

Of course they go back
once they teach the land-bred babes to swim:
That's what land is for—
plowing, cropping, harvesting.

If seeing water boiled frights them, that's the price
they willing pay for one unfurred skin's
warmth and slub against another. And
for the cloud-breath of wool, the ripened-salt of cheese,
for thumbs—with which they'll avidly and deftly
carve or weave or stitch the things
they'll leave you
when they take the seal-babes back into the waves.

Of course they hide their skins from you.
You must decide:
Will you follow yours and
thieve and secret off its truest skin
to keep it bound to you on land?
Which half of your nature will pay—
the half that wants the waves and love that bursts the heart?
The half that wants its children safe around the hearth?

What will you pay to bind your sea-strong lover to your bed?

September 24th, 2012

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