“Song of the Selkie” by Jane Beal

AjiMagazine My poem, “Song of the Selkie,” now appears in Aji Magazine 6 (Spring 2017): 66-67.

Song of the Selkie

in honor of Augustine Vegas

I am a singer, and I must sing:
that is what few people understand.
Whether in love or death,
I must sing the enchanting song
that draws listeners closer to me.

You don’t know how many men
I have seen drowned in the deep of the Deep,
the sailors we tried to rescue
as the water filled up their lungs
and they, and their ships, sank to the floor of the sea.

Some wrapped their arms around our necks,
and we swam with them to the surface,
so that they breathed, and lived, and went back to shore
where they told the truth about us and our songs –
the selkies who saved them from storms.

Some told lies. They said that we sang
the enchanting song, a serenade of death,
and filled them with desire to plunge into the flood,
to seek love and death and oblivion in our arms –
like sea-witches, like goddesses or shee-demons.

How little those liars know! What have they seen,
under the waves, of the faces of the pale dead?
The swollen eyes, fully dilated and black,
the mouths open and expressions distorted,
the arms and legs floating, helpless, without strength?

You don’t know why I sing. You don’t know who I have
saved from drowning – or who I couldn’t save.
You never transformed your true self into the image of one
who died, a pregnant woman who flung herself
from the starboard side of an ancient wooden ship

in despair from her pain, to give birth to a dead child,
in the sea, and you don’t know how we carried her
back to the surface, and her baby to an invisible grave
in the heart of the sea, in my heart forever, the stillborn,
and her mother, crying, until she finally stopped.

You never became one of the lost ones
to try to deal with your grief, the incomprehensible
sorrow of watching someone die, before your eyes,
as their pupils open and yours narrow
in the dark beneath the Deep.

You never walked upon the shore, human for the first time,
or wondered about the love of a man in a Lighthouse,
who tries to save the ships by guiding them home
with a beacon to declare the source of safety –
you never thought he might understand.

You never went back from the shore to the sea,
knowing that a man in a Lighthouse
is different from a selkie, from a woman water-creature
who saves men in the sea, who brings the dying
to the surface to breathe.

You never rocked in the cradle of the loving waves
and watched from their embrace as a pirate
held a pistol to the heart of a prince, and pulled the trigger,
so that the prince fell, already dead, blood flowing
from his chest into the sea.

I am a singer, and I must sing –

            that is what few people understand.

Jane Beal
Song of the Selkie 


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