Lost on Land, Safe at Sea

“Belonging”

Waiting ashore for the moon to rise,

blood beating in his temples

like a tightened drum

She held him once through his silver skin,

he’s been on land too long.

An ache for salt water has driven his feet,

followed every step –

the eyes of his people far away,

the air too dry for breath.

Some in the land-world have been kind –

still, it was never the same

as swimming flipper to flipper,

ducking wave to wave.

Luck stands with him now,

dappled-gray skin, deeply himself,

lies around his shoulders again,

ready to let him swim.

Excited barks rise from the changing tide –

Come, brother, welcome home!

Now he’ll reply as his heart commands –

At last, at last, I come.

 

They’re coming, both over and under the waves,

sleek seal-people sliding to shore –

and ah! if you go with the selkie-folk now,

you’ll be of their home evermore.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright March, May 2014.

 

I’ve been interested in selkie tales for as long as I can remember. Supernatural folk who are seals underwater and humans on land, if they choose? Seems like a wonderful sort of life. Unfortunately, most of the stories I’ve encountered involve a selkie, usually female, being forced to stay on land against her will because her sealskin’s been stolen and hidden by a human. Many times we hear the story from the human’s persepctive, but sometimes from the selkie’s as well. Rarely though, at least in my experience has the selkie in question been male, and this poem wanted to give a male selkie the stage. Regardless of how the speaker identifies, however, I think that a longing for home can be experienced by anyone.

A Tribute to Piracy

“Gràinne”

First night aboard this ship,

the waves make me sick.

Still, we’re sailing

with you –

a woman people at home

always talk of with such tales,

I wonder how

you can be real.

‘The Sea-Queen of Connaught’, –

there’s one of the names

I’ve heard.

Yet, here on the water,

you’re simply ‘Captain Gràinne’

– that’s enough.

Dawn creeps

across the deck,

we dash into a cove,

waiting…

Suddenly, there’s an excited hiss

from the crow’s-nest swaying high above

We leap out,

nipping at the English trader,

darting swift as swift.

Like the other powder-monkeys,

I must dash to keep the cannon loaded,

silently praying

not to drop a cannonball.

I can hardly hear or see

through the bangs and shouting,

the drifting smoke and flying splinters.

When quiet returns,

the trader’s mainmast

leans shakily, shattered,

her cargo trickling into our hold.

The English captain,

twitching with rage,

shouts from his deck,

cursing your name.

‘God damn you, Grace O’Malley,

into Hell!’

I look at you –

back straight and proud, hair flying,

eyes bright, hard, sad and strong.

No curse comes to my lips, only admiration

for our Pirate Queen!

Calm waters beneath, we’re sailing alone again,

yet the crew are cheering still:

Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol!’

But how can you be bald?

That silly nickname

makes no sense at all,

so I start giggling, stormy-wild.

Somehow you hear –

there you are before me!

‘What’s this, a bhuachaill, sassing your captain?’

But then you’re grinning,

and I know you’re just like me –

sassing everyone within reach.

– Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

Here’s another piece in what I like to call my “Moments in History” series. I’ve been fascinated by pirates, and the history and culture of piracy, for a long time, though I’m not quite sure how that fascination began. On a number of Hallowe’en’s I have in fact dressed in pirate costume, as a way to connect to their world – romanticized though my view of that world may be. And the greater the swashbuckling air generated by the costume, the better!

Gráinne Ní Mháille (a common English version of her name is Grace O’Malley) has been one of my favourite historical and legendary pirates for some time – partly because she successfully accomplished a number of things which were generally thought of as unacceptable activities for women in her country and time period, and partly because she is an Irish historical-legendary figure. As any of my friends will tell you, I have a keen interest in Irish myth and folklore. To learn a bit more about Gráinne, check out this article.)

I owe thanks to my good friend Cam Wachowich for generously assisting me with some of the Irish in this poem. Any grammatical errors are my own. Go raibh míle maith agat, a chara!