The Seal-Wife


When I was young and would sail from this coast,

I married a woman with deep, sad eyes

who loved me more than a man could wish.

One night by the driftwood fire, she told me

she came of the seal-people—woman by land,

but a seal if she went again to the sea.


That night she gave me the skin of fur

she would need to return to her kind.

Nothing ever troubled so my thoughts,

so deep and true was my love for her.

What if she swam away? Or drowned

if as a woman she fell to the waves?


All I could do was hide the skin

in a secret place. Then we were together,

held close by love but sad—me with fear

of losing her and she with longing for the sea. 

I saw her grief at the sound of gulls

and in the spring at the salt smell of the waves.


We had a child, beautiful as her mother,

with the same deep eyes. One day,

so the child told me, she played

in the forest cave where I’d hid

the skin of fur. “What is this, Mother?” she said.

It’s soft and light as the foam of the waves.”


She took it from the child and ran to the shore,

slipping it around her. Then she was gone.

We stood on the shore, scanning the sea

to see her. We saw driftwood borne by waves

but never saw her. No use to say I might have

hid it better. How I wish I had.

Drawing by Joseph Yeomans


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