At Oyster Cove

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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 flame and smoke 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.