Image: Mary Kessell – Still Life Under the Sea (1960) © The estate of Mary Kessell
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been published in web magazines and print anthologies. These include Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Alliterati, Stepaway, Poets Speak (whilst they still can), Three Drops from the Cauldron, Snakeskin, Obsessed with Pipework, The Linnet’s Wing, Blue Nib, Picaroon, Amaryllis, Algebra of Owls, Write to be Counted, The Lake, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter, Poetry Shed, Southbank Poetry, Smeuse Bandit Fiction and Atrium and with work coming up in Marauder, Prole and The Curlew.
Selkie’s small, flapped ears
peel back and strain to hear seal songs
whispered on the ice wind.
She gazes toward the horizon
with her glazed black eyes
and she recalls her ocean home –
unknown to her selkiepaws.
Aroused, she has visions
of her luaidh Seal-man,
alone these dozen years
since Fisher Kagan snared her
with his crafty shanty song.
Now she has two girls, two boys,
young Erland not yet four,
and anguished she remembers
how birthing nearly killed her.
In a rank cave by the shore,
she finds her cast-off sealskin.
Her time has come,
to swim free, to dive deep
and leave cold Kagan –
and her selkiepaws.
She slinks inside her hide
and shape shifts back to selkie.
Her oily, pewter coat sheens bright,
caped over marine-muscled shoulders.
Blubber belts her body,
and her slippery labia fold.
Her thighs fuse once more,
cell by cell, to tailed strength.
She stretches taut,
her spine aches to surf the swell,
slice waves, plunge deep
and rest on her seabed.
But as she craves to swim away –
she grieves to leave her selkiepaws.
Her heart is torn,
forlorn and ripped apart.
As she greets and mourns,
her harsh and honking breaths
stink of rotten fish and loss.
This pain cannot be borne.
She turns her body back to shore
and drags it over barnacles,
her path trailed with flesh and blood –
to reach her selkiepaws.
The sea fret veils her crawling shape,
moving up toward the croft.
And Inga, Freya, Magnus and Erland
peer out from Father’s door.
They shiver to see the creature rise
and then their young hearts almost stop
to see their mother, Selkie,
the mam they feared they’d lost.
Since cruel and bitter Kagan,
thought his aqua-mare had gone,
he’d bidden his four bairns,
‘Forget your damned, inhuman mam.’
Now Selkie has returned,
his flagrant anger flares.
He primes his arm to thrust his spear
and teach her who has won.
stare at the truth
and cry out, ‘Father. No.’
Enfolding Selkie’s quivering pelt
they long to save her life.
Fisher Kagan stays his hand
just time enough to say,
‘Die, selkiepaws and dam.
I’ll sing and catch another wife.’
Endnotes, according to Orkney legends:
Selkies – are mythological creatures found in Irish, Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land.
Selkiepaws – the off-spring of Selkies and humans
Fisher Kagan – according to legend Fisher Kagan took a Selkie wife, there are various tales but most show the story ending badly.