The Seal People
I had watched them far off in the rough skerries,
their long cries carried to land on spindrift,
their bodies slipping like silk between the white
knuckles of waves, vanishing in the spray
for dives of joy into the great grey acres.
It was luck itself to find them there that day –
their visits rare and those who saw them blessed.
Alone, as the sun glared briefly over Heskair
making them dark as dolphins, I waited on
the machair until they came ashore. Then
they skinned themselves assuming human shape,
their seal-natures pulled up on the sand
like boats beyond the breakers’ reach and roar
and built a beacon out of tidewrack where
they cooked the fish they carried in their tails.
I only know that they were beautiful,
their foreheads spangled with salt, their eyes like pairs
of moons, their bodies glistening like gods’.
They looked at me, their faces filled with distance,
the scope of journeys sketched in their high cheeks.
A shiver takes you when your soul is moved.
That night I shook myself to somewhere else.
They showed me how to talk with just my hands;
how I could to leave my body like a pelt
on the cold sand and watch it from above;
how they had swum the margins of the world
trailing their fingers in the edgy sea
as if they drew a human envelope
in water, reaching out around us with
a hand to mark the limits of our kind.
They came from where the ice and water meet:
I saw the islands long untenanted,
the far, stark dwellings they had left behind
for the dark, forgetting ocean, with its freedom.
They clothed themselves again at break of day,
departing from our world on the high crests
of surf, their arms describing arcs of spray,
their laughter tumbling back on skeins of wind
to where I watched, diminishing. Their name
meant “us” as all the names of peoples do.
(from Crossing the Outskirts Anvil Press 2002)
Julian Turner was born in Cheadle Hulme, in 1955 and educated at New College, Oxford and Goldsmith’s, London. He now lives in Otley, Yorkshire with his partner and works as a writer and counsellor. His first collection, Crossing the Outskirts (Anvil), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, was short-listed for the Forward Best First Collection Prize in 2002. His second, Orphan Sites, was published by Anvil in 2006. A third collection, Planet-Struck, also a PBS Recommendation, was published by Anvil in January 2011.