I always wondered why she sang so strangely
at the spinning wheel, why her eyes held all
the mourning of the darkest sea. And why
she held me away,
as if afraid of my skin, why my feet and
hands were webbed with translucent sea–skin.
I used to bring her armfuls of yellow
water iris to almost
see her smile. I wondered why father
never let me swim out against the waves,
never let her walk the shores alone.
He feared she might
disappear like a snatched breath on every
angry tide. And when I found the skin,
by accident, beneath the kindling, its fur
mottled as the moors
in summer, soft as milk in my twelve–year–old
hands, I brought it straight to her. I hoped
she might smile again. I couldn't guess
she might hold me close,
then shrug on that magic seal coat and swim
quickly away, enchantment broken, transformation
complete. She never saw me, waving frantic
from the shore.
So that's what she left me — webbed fingers
and toes, a lonely father, the stench of salt
and seaweed, the knowledge she had never
been herself with me.
About the Author: Jeannine Hall Gailey's poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Rattle, Columbia Poetry Review, and other journals. She is the author of one collection, Becoming the Villainess, and one chapbook, Female Comic Book Superheroes. She lives in Seattle. For more information, visit the author's blog.
Copyright © 2006 by Jeannine Hall Gailey. The poem, which is based on selkie legends, first appeared in Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006). It may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.