Poem of the Week | August 20, 2018

This week, we’re delighted to present a new poem by Emma Hine!

Emma Hine’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Gulf Coast, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Radar Poetry, and Ninth Letter, among others. Her poem “Dipping Achilles” was a finalist for the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. She holds an MFA from New York University and works at the Academy of American Poets. Originally from Austin, Texas, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.



after Brigit Pegeen Kelly

I told my sisters our mother was born
in the ocean. What was the harm? I told them
she was a seal. Her brothers and sisters
were seals. And her real parents. They swam
all day together, and at night slept upright
with their noses at the surface for air. I said
she never meant to lose this. But she wanted
to know what it felt like to be lost.
So some nights, while her family slept,
she left the water. On land her pelt was heavy,
like stewed velvet, so she taught herself
to take it off. Without it she looked
like a woman. She ran up and down the beach.
She saw seagulls, ghost crabs, an osprey
hunting fish. Saw the land for what remains
when the sea goes missing: the driftwood
remembers the water, the sand in the ground
remembers the ocean floor. Her pelt
always remembered her body. Except
of course, one night it wasn’t there.
She searched everywhere, along the tideline,
over the dunes. When the sun came up
she slept under a boardwalk, and each night
she searched again. Until she found,
not her pelt, but a child, tucked like a whisper
in the inner furl of a shell. She found another
folded in a morning glory. A third asleep
with the ghost crabs in the dunes. And then,
because she loved us, she stopped searching.
I don’t know why I said this. Maybe I saw her
looking at the ocean with an expression
I couldn’t name. So I made up this beauty.
But then I forgot it, until one day my sisters
led me to the beach. They were crying.
They said they’d looked and looked and finally
found her sealskin, and they’d decided
to give it to her, even though she would then
swim away. And there it was. There it was.
A dried bundle. Maybe cardboard. But just
like a pelt would be after ten or so years
in the sand. For a moment I thought I could
fix this. I told them I had lied. But they just
looked out at the ocean. At the pelicans
dropping like weights. At the water
stretched out over nothing. And there was
no seal. There was no seal family. Just the waves
pressing higher and higher up onto the shore.


Author’s Note:

This poem borrows its narrative and syntactical structure, as well as the phrases “What was the harm?” and “But there was no…,” from Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Black Swan,” which is a poem I can’t seem to reread or celebrate enough. Her use of fable offered me a way into some questions I’d been writing around for a long time—questions about family, about the stories we tell, about how we know each other, about what we’re willing to give up for the people we love.