shed in the sea
adrift on the current
find your mother’s shore
navigate by star, by luck
of sweet water
wet grass at night,
the bank, the waterfall, the lip
gill and ripple
a dark limb
slippery word, a savage thought,
of the river.
Eels have always both fascinated and repulsed me. I remember seeing one in the dark edges of my favourite swimming hole when I was a child. An old tree had fallen into the water a week before, and the eel was twining itself along the trunk. I know parallax error means that I’m almost certainly over-estimating its size, but when I measured the two points of the trunk where I’d seen its head and tail, it was six feet long.
I started using a different swimming hole after that.
And yet I know eels are quite intelligent fish, and they certainly learn to be comfortable around humans. And their life history is fascinating. When we were living at Edgeware Road, one of the many streams that run through Christchurch was on our doorstep, marking the front boundary of our handkerchief of outdoor space. As well as the many ducks, there was an eel who used to swim along the edges at around 9 am and again around 4 pm. She (although I have no idea of the eel’s gender) was actually quite beautiful. And seemed to enjoy swimming nearby if I was outside.
I’d love to be able to get some sort of reference to Lilith into here – eels seem Lilith-like to me. No idea why. And that should be a way of expanding the poem later, to take it from a fairly blah set of descriptions to an interesting poem. (Feel free to correct me if you think the poem is interesting as it is!) I toyed with the idea of titling it “Lilith”, but I thought that might just make the eel connection too hard to recognise. Interested to hear other opinions on this one.
And for those who wonder about the structure – I love kennings, and the last two stanzas suggested themselves that way. Somehow it felt appropriate.