Sunday Poem

The dead seal near McClure’s Beach


……….Walking north toward the point, I came on a dead seal. From a few feet away, he looks like a brown log. The body is on its back, dead only a few hours. I stand and look at him. There’s a quiver in the dead flesh. My God he is still alive. A shock goes through me, as if a wall of my room had fallen away.
……….His head is arched back, the small eyes closed, the whiskers sometimes rise and fall. He is dying. This is the oil. Here on its back is the oil that heats our houses so efficiently. Wind blows fine sand back toward the ocean. The flipper near me lies folded over the stomach, looking like an unfinished arm, lightly glazed with sand at the edges. The other flipper lies half underneath. The seal’s skin looks like an old overcoat, scratched here and there, by sharp mussel-shells maybe…
……….So I reach out and touch him. Suddenly he rears up, turns over, gives three cries. Awaark! Awaark! Awaark! — like the cries from Christmas toys. He lunges toward me. I am terrified and leap back, although I know there can be no teeth in that jaw. He starts flopping toward the sea. But he falls over, on his face. He does not want to go back to the sea. He looks up at the sky, and he looks like an old lady who has lost her hair.
……….He puts his chin back on the sand, rearranges his flippers, and waits for me to go. I go.


Today I go back to say goodbye. He’s dead now, but he’s not—he’s a quarter mile further up the shore. Today he is thinner, squatting on his stomach, head out. The ribs show more—each vertebra on the back underneath the coat is now visible, shiny. He breathes in and out.
He raises himself up, and tucks his flippers under, as if to keep them warm. A wave comes in, touches his nose. He turns and looks at me—the eyes slanted, the crown of his head looks like a boy’s leather jacket bending over his bicycle bars. He is taking a long time to die. The whiskers white as porcupine quills, the forehead slopes…goodbye brother, die in the sound of waves, forgive us if we have killed you, long live your race, your inner-tube race, so uncomfortable on land, so comfortable in the ocean. Be comfortable in death then, when the sand will be out of your nostrils , and you can swim in long loops through the pure death, ducking under as assassinations break above you. You don’t want to be touched by me. I climb the cliff and go home the other way.

by Robert Bly
from News of the Universe
Sierra Club Books, 1980