Portland Head Light, May 1973


These are the rocks I told you about.
Sometimes the locals scramble down
to collect dulse and periwinkles. You
need a pin to get the periwinkles out,
and butter, unless you’re making chowder.
See the one on which they’ve painted
the dates of winter Nor’easters and
the wrecks? It was there in spring 1954
they say they watched my mother rise out
at high tide, flop onto her glass-furred side,
and push me out. They say she folded
the unfurred, limb-ish thing beneath
one black flipper, gave it suck. Then,
as the tide pulled itself back, she slid
into the live water, barked three times,
swam off away. They watched until
her head’s dark shape disappeared.
They say a dozen other seals kept watch
and followed when she left. They say
seven men and heavy ropes were needed
to bring me up. The gulls, they say,
cloud-hovered around the squalling,
unfurred thing, but never pecked.
They say they couldn’t find a priest or
even minister to baptize me. They’ve never
fed me fish or dulse, or let me step onto
beach or boat, never let me wear a pearl
or buttons carved from shells. They’ll never
know how, late at night, I go shoeless down
onto the sand and step into the waves,
they’ll never know how waves curl
around my ankles, singing soft. They’ll
never see me dunk my head to drink and
drink, raise it to watch night-sheened waves
for one black body sliding toward me.

Devon Miller-Duggan has published poems in Rattle, Shenandoah, Margie, Christianity and Literature, Gargoyle. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Delaware. Her books include Pinning the Bird to the Wall (2008), Neither Prayer, Nor Bird (2013), Alphabet Year, (2017).

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