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  #1  
Unread 09-08-2021, 09:01 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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Default a poem





At Oyster Cove



There was a seal, killed by the old men up to their new tricks,

the dead water below the salmon pens.

The tide that usually moves all things along

kept bringing it back to the same spot,

rolling it over the pebbles by the rickety dock.

The big body dark and heavy as the sea

lodged in the cove for six hours or more each day,

and I would sit with it.


I would pagan-pray with smoke and flame

that it would return again the next day,

and it did. And each time there was less of it,

some gone to the silver gulls, flying,

some drifting down to the narrow fish in the sleepless dark.


One day a woman found me there

and told how she longed in her loneliness to be wedded to the sea,

to put on a seal dress and walk down an aisle of waves.

She painted pictures like this, and showed them to me.

At first I thought, a creature like me.

It didn't take long for the skeleton to emerge.


Each day I picked from the rocks another vertebra, another rib

come clean. She came again and looked at my heap of bones, and I offered them

but her eyes were on the seal's head. You keep the scaffolding, she said,

all of it. I only want the skull. If you get it, will you give it to me?

I couldn't say no, although I spoke it in my marrow.


The soft body is a cloak, a curtain,

and when the dark engine quits, the body opens

without regret, disowns itself by way of dissolution.

It happened in tide-time that the seal was broken,

the wave woman could have been the wind.

By then, only a fierce tendon kept the head to the housing of the heart.

It is harder than you think to part them


but I could tell when the moment was right,

when the skull was the only bright thing

in the sinking day, the twilight of blues and sea-crows,

so I pulled, and it hurt,

and the spaces around the jawbone swirled with the song of where I found it,

for the skull is stronger than a promise

and white as a wedding.




S5 L5 was "the woman with her dolphin dreams could have been the wind"
S5 L6 changed "Then..." to "By then,..."



Last edited by Cally Conan-Davies; 09-09-2021 at 03:09 PM. Reason: typos!
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  #2  
Unread 09-09-2021, 08:04 AM
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Seree Zohar Seree Zohar is offline
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Hi Cally,

there’s some beautiful phrasing / images here: up to their new tricks (ha! grew up with that phrase!), the tide that usually moves things along, each time there was less of it, an aisle of waves, the body opens without regret, housing of the heart, spoke it in my marrow, skull is stronger than a promise. Just delicious, those are.

But there are other areas that seem… I'm not even sure I know what the word is: almost-developed, perhaps? I have this inherent desire to see, first of all, a pattern: There was a seal… and therefore: There was a woman… and: There was a body, soft as a cloak. (added in: ) So, while "One day a woman found me there" has that fable-like quality to it, I don't think the fable framework is lost in "There was a woman: one day she found me there..." etc.

I have some trouble with buying the ‘… loneliness to be wedded to the sea’ – It would seem that this is a selkie transformation myth and yet, selkies weren’t known for loneliness or needing to be wedded to the sea because that’s what they inherently were/did; and, well, dolphin dreams leaves me trying to quickly reconfigure the image you’ve been building up.

This is not yet a true crit but more in the way of gut-reacting as I read, and will surely do another read-through or two.

Last edited by Seree Zohar; 09-09-2021 at 08:09 AM.
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  #3  
Unread 09-09-2021, 12:36 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.
Hi Cally, I've read it through just once. I'll read it over again and then again, but my first impression is that the poem provides a mirror for me to see so many things I have not found the time or resolve or courage to reflect on... It is an allegory searching for a meaning and, perhaps, finding it.

The final passage of the skull being torn from the tendon that connects it to what remains is gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

That's all for now. I'm still peering into all the light and shadows of this one.

.
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  #4  
Unread 09-09-2021, 01:14 PM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Cally,
This is quite magical; the first thought that came to me accords with a comment of Seree: the "dolphin dreams" seem to come out of nowhere. Up to now, it was all seal. Is the woman with dolphin dreams meant to be someone else, perhaps N herself? In any case, I found that jarring.

I'm sure there is much more to say, and I will be back for more reads.

Thank you!
Martin

PS I'm not sure that you want "killed by the old men up to their new tricks"; it doesn't really seem to connect to the rest of the poem. Is it perhaps a relic of an earlier idea of where the poem was going to go?
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Unread 09-09-2021, 01:48 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
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I like this very much overall.

I'm wondering if the last two lines are helping or hurting. You could end with "found it" and skip the rest, which almost seems like the pronouncement of a moral. (Besides, would a "seal dress" be white?)

I'm also not sure about "the seal was broken" pun. I may like it a lot. But it may be a bit too cute for the poem.

By the way, are you familiar with Stanley Kunitz's "The Wellfeet Whale"? I think you'd like it.
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  #6  
Unread 09-09-2021, 03:05 PM
Cally Conan-Davies Cally Conan-Davies is offline
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Such helpful first impressions -- thanks so much Seree, and Jim, and Martin, and Roger!

I'm going to tinker with a few words now based on what you've all said. I don't want 'dolphin' to throw anyone out at that point! I'm sure more changes will come, but I'm still rolling in them . . . thinking . . .

I'll be back to speak to you individually soon!

(Roger -- you're always steering me to such great poems, this one included. Inspiring! I want to thank you very much for doing this.)

Cally

Last edited by Cally Conan-Davies; 09-09-2021 at 03:11 PM.
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  #7  
Unread 09-10-2021, 08:38 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Ths seems an exquisite example of Shamanic Narrative, a visionary journey, complete with watery putrefactio. It has all the rhythmic suspense one expects of a story told, but its terms keep slipping through one another, so that all the elements have a quality of tranparency, of translucent scaffolding. Until we get to that skull beneath which all the telling takes place. It's alcehmical the way that all is toiled/told/washed away, leaving only the kernel "stronger than a promise / and white as a wedding", "the only bright thing in the sinking day", the stone.

My two favorite moments . . .

It is harder than you think to part them

. . . and this revised line . . .

the wave woman could have been the wind

Nature is the great alchemist here, but without the observer, patient to the point of torture, the phenomenon would not be complete, and the theatre of the skull would pass unrecorded, its teachings unheeded.

Remarkable poem, Cally, my favorite of yours.
(And that's quite a contest!)

Nemo

Last edited by R. Nemo Hill; 09-10-2021 at 09:42 AM.
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Unread 09-10-2021, 10:28 AM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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It's beautiful, Cally. It does seem greatly touched by folklore, but these three lines - out of many good ones - seem to go beyond folklore, and are my favourite of all:

The soft body is a cloak, a curtain,

and when the dark engine quits, the body opens

without regret, disowns itself by way of dissolution.


That seems to me to speak to the dark truth of our existence - and yet we should sing while we can. Keep singing.

David
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Unread 09-10-2021, 11:23 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Callin View Post
It's beautiful, Cally. It does seem greatly touched by folklore, but these three lines - out of many good ones - seem to go beyond folklore, and are my favourite of all:

The soft body is a cloak, a curtain,

and when the dark engine quits, the body opens

without regret, disowns itself by way of dissolution.


That seems to me to speak to the dark truth of our existence - and yet we should sing while we can. Keep singing.

David
I agree those lines are wonderful. I was struck when I read them that Cally (or the speaker of the poem) fully embraces the idea that the body is entirely separate from the mind/soul, as in Rumi's: “Know then that the body is merely a garment. Go seek the wearer, not the cloak.” Or as in Blake's "The Little Black Boy":

And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.


Quite unlike, say, Whitman, who insists that body and soul are the same.
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Unread 09-10-2021, 10:39 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I love this poem, Cally. There is the surface magic of contemplation and beneath that, I sense a sort of unease, for without unease would the narrator go on this journey? It's like the conundrum of mediation--the process of meditation can become the obstacle to meditation. If I think of letting go, I haven't let go. I feel that here. A longing for something other, but there is a conscious, even analytical, mind in the way. It doesn't cripple it. I don't mean that. I mean it is the tension that suspends the lines. For me, that contrast is what paces the poem. I do want to say that while there is much to love about the language the poem is primarily beautiful for what we see, which seems intended. When I first read it I had this slight urge for it to end with

Quote:
the wave woman could have been the wind.
but I think that is perhaps an overly poetic instinct. It's a beautiful line and would make a great ending line but what comes after is necessary.

Beautiful and moving poem, Cally. Thanks for posting it.
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