The dead seal rises again

Just about a year ago, Wild Bill and I were down at Cape Blanco fishing on the Sixes River. We were walking down to the sandbar at the beach, stepping over big driftwood logs when one of them reared up and started caterwauling at us. It was a nasty looking sea lion the size of a Honda on its death bed. I never thought I’d find a poem about this experience, but here is an excerpt of one from Robert Bly:

The dead seal near McClure’s Beach

I. 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…

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.

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About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
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4 Responses to The dead seal rises again

  1. Bpaul says:

    Great catch on the poem. Which collection is that from?

  2. mstansberry says:

    Heh… Not too sure. I’m reading Ted Kooser’s “Poetry Home Repair Manual” and he referenced it.

  3. Bpaul says:

    We’re going to have to have coffee or a beer some time, I swear.

    Haven’t heard of Kooser (shows how far out of the loop I’ve become I guess) but that book looks like a dandy. May have to pick it up for some next summer reading.

  4. mstansberry says:

    I’m up for that beverage. Seems like I’m going to have to come your way though… You’re busier than I am I think. You’re up around PDX right?

    BTW: The Bly book is Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems.

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