Selkie

In the end it was easy
to steal her skin,
even in the full moonlight.

I was surprised how heavy it was,
and how weightless she looked without it,
those years ago, dancing on the Cleggan sand.

The day she found it again
I was on the boat with Finn,
having tea, just setting out.

The kettle boiled over
and steam burned my hand, red
around the wedding band.

Finn, usually so quiet, said,
‘Just like you, Daire,
thinkin water’ll allus be right!’

I turned with a quick word
and climbed up the headland
above the bay just past the house,

called to her, too far along the path
to catch / I was going to say
something about the boys — what of them?

But the sea already possessed
her hair, dancing, taunting,
and when she looked over

she was no longer their mam.
There was no more love and defeat
in that obsidian eye.

What was the point?
And anyhow, I am a fisherman:
I know knots and cleats and nets — full nets.

I do not know how to keep
a wild thing free.

11 Irregular Stanzas on Trimming Toenails

The first nail flies off like a seed,
a dark germ inside,
and plants itself in the sleeping grass.
Come May, a full-grown toe,
luscious and greening,
lures grackles to the cottonwood.

The second is a fractured nursery rhyme,
a plump little piggy going to market,
disfigured by a fungus.
Even the wolf crosses the street
to avoid him.

About the third
the less said the better —
a disappointment to his family.

Disney wrote the fourth,
a scimitar from the Arabian Nights,
sharp as the thing
that sets it free.

Five, Dickensian,
a washerwoman,
proud and fat.

A lawyer raised number six.
Home schooled,
she argued a case
before the Supremes
regarding the rights of toes.

Seven was a sly serial toe murderer,
the cutest of the bunch.
Motel owners remembered him
smiling,
signing the check.

Eight ate leather,
loved one hundred and fifty dollar
running shoes.

Nein, the philosopher,
famously said, “After all,
what is a toenail?”

The tenth nail,
from the big right toe,
a cruel flagship,
shoots a sliver across the lake,
the ice just off,
the geese lazy on rails
like amusement park rides.

Remember the girl who dragged herself
from the sea (who can forget her),
where the old god’s sperm roiled the water?
They say the lunatic seers of Babylon
warned us about her sister:
you, Alea,
the second apocalypse of love.

Because I Was in Love

I broke like rock in the Caribou mines
I was the earth and not the gardener
I was the apple in winter
I stretched my hand when the pine trees slept
I trespassed with the cloud
I painted my skin in the Colorado

the cowbird and the hummingbird stopped
the forest curled around me like a cat
the dark ridge was a compass
the hill replaced my heart
the stream replaced my blood
the path opened in the dark

but I lay down beside it
for another traveler
and set myself on fire.

Love Deserves the Infinitive

To love
she took your hand in the wood
and when you cried over the math
in third grade
and the class snickered awkwardly
it was she rose without thinking
and stood at your desk
in the ruled foolscap of the morning,
the milk in
and the nettles and oaks
speaking at the window.

She had not learned much:
to make the action past,
to conjugate conditional —
not even bare
love
without a particle.

There was no loved,
nor could love,
nor if the rain had come
we would have loved.
Nor once above the mibs and taws
her shadow may.
But in the sucking clover,
disguised in a neat dress,
she invited atoms,
breathed like billows,
made everything whole
because she knew it whole.