Saturday, June 6, 2015

Formal Verse Series #1: The Skin Stealer: A Story Told in Letters

A few years ago, I went clinically insane for a brief period of time and decided it would be a great idea to write a formal, rhyming, epic poem about the Selkie myth. I had almost forgotten about that poem until last week, when I met with my writing group and we spent a good chunk of time discussing the joys of writing formal poetry; of how limitations force creativity. When I first started writing poetry, I wrote only formal verse, and I miss it. I might try my hand at formal-verse poetry again now that the novel is almost ready to go. But just for fun, I think I’ll post some of my early formal verse on this blog in a series. Here is the first, and by the far the longest of that series, entitled “The Skin-Stealer: A Story Told in Letters”. Enjoy! Or run away screaming. Either way, you can read more about the Selkie myth here if you want some context for the poem. 

This poem was originally published by Moon-Drenched Fables.

The Skin-Stealer: A Story Told in Letters

Dearest Ian,

She calls herself Leahla, her name like a wave;
Eyes: a dream to drown in, and her shape--
the Venusuian form that I crave.
I kissed her, brother Ian, on her gentle nape,
And she fell over me like water.
She has held me in her dark cocoon.
She's the ocean's soulful daughter,
my cooling storm, my bright monsoon.
We'll be wed at September's bright crisp end,
Our blood and bones at last to blend.

Dear Finn,

But at twenty-one you're yet so young!
Don't be fooled by the newest ripe lush sweet,
For your heart could be so easily stung
While your passion is fired to a crimson heat.
You have many women yet to love (and lose).
This woman has charmed you, and you've been led.
So, indeed let this Lealah be your muse,
But not the one that you love and wed!
A man must dance with many a girl
To find the most worthwhile pearl.

Dear Ian,

She appeared to me in the mystic night,
A specter on the darkened beach.
She knew my name and spoke it right,
Then clasped herself to me with her plump reach.
She said that she had waited these many years
Wandering desolate, alone and lost
Drenching the earth with her wretched tears--
And now she'd found me, our fates to cross!
“I am yours, I am yours!” she cried to me,
“I'll serve with only your love as fee.”

Dear Finn,

Such a seduction is a cunning stroke
I see she's gripped you with her yielding ways
Mother says you've wed since we last spoke
Brother, I wish you happiest days!
You've become a man in your own right now.
I am proud of you, my dear, grown Finn.
Be strong and true and keep your vow
To love this woman as your heart's own twin.
If she serves you well she's a worthy one.

Dear Ian,

Yes, brother Ian, she's a gentle bird;
A dreamy girl—soft and genial.
Never a says petulant word;
Refuses no task as beneath her or menial.
She lives her days to serve my meals and tea,
And keeps our home with pious grace.
But she spends long stretches staring out to sea.
At times there's such wistfulness on her face
That I wonder of whom she is dreaming--
Another she loves? It leaves my heart teeming!

One night she vanished with no word or kiss.
I searched for hours to find her alone,
Swimming naked in rapturous bliss
On a stretch of sea that like green glass shone.
Her hair was with broken seaweed salted.
I wrapped my coat around her curvy sway.
She took my hand, but froze and halted,
Loathe to let me lead her away.
Ian, at times I fear I cannot please her.
The good home I provide does not appease her.  

At night while I'm up late and reading,
In the darkness hear her faint keening,
And the sound of her prayers, like soft pleading.
I hear only her tone, not the meaning.
Ian, I fear that that she mourns a past love--
Though she swears to me her fierce devotion.
I must get control of this stealthy dove,
For her eyes tell of a darker emotion--
And a worthy man takes his wife in hand,
Her heart and loyalty to demand. 

 Dearest Brother,

Finn, there's no man whoever demanded
The love of a woman, who received her full heart.
Authentic love's not a thing commanded,
But a rich, mysterious course to chart.
When two are faithful and industrious
Time, trust and experience prime the heart.
In time love comes, bright and  illustrious,
To weave tight your souls, as a work of art.
But jealousy is a poisonous fire
That burns the object of its desire.

Dearest Ian,

I am sickened with the dregs of rum.
My behavior leaves me crushed with shame!
All night I imbibed, my pain to numb--
And I struck sweet Leahla with clumsy aim.
My dearest Leahla, my suffering one!
Her pain so quiet, yet such a thief.
And now I have left her soul undone.
I'm a monster trapped in helpless grief
I love and hate her with equal measure;
This mad wench; my hearts' curse and treasure.

Tonight I found her in the attic, frantic,
Her eyes glossed not with anger, but pleading
I was shocked at her hysteric antic!
She paced and scratched her arms to bleeding,
Insisting that I have---stolen her skin!
I fear she is mad beyond all mending.
What on earth does she speak of, my wise kin?
I know not of a skin, of no such rending!
I have taken from her nothing, but given all
And now in grief, it seems we both shall fall.

Telegram: Finn have you ever taken a skin from the beach. Stop. You must tell me at once. Stop. Very important. Stop. Ian

Damnit, Ian!
Why do you ask me such things? Please, I implore!
My head aches again and I'm on the brink
With Leahla's wailing on the ocean's shore.
Long ago at the cabin at Gavin's Drink, 
At  twilight, I snuck from my child's bed
Out to the seashore to watch the night stars
And seek Cassiopeia's shining head.
I found a fur blanket on the sandy bars,
And wrapped myself up and slept under the sky.
What of a fur borrowed, now years gone by?

Dear Finn,

Do you recall the stories Grandma told?
Those “tales of fancy,” as you so dismissed?
She told of the Selkies from the seas of old
The Seal-women who rise from the early mist
Then shed their skins to take human form
And lounge on the beaches, nude and free. 
If a man steals the skin of one so born
She must become his wife, and cannot flee.
Never to return to her home again,
Unless she should find her hidden skin.

Finn, she's been yours since that childhood day!
But until now, you've not been age of to wed
She'd been left to wander, wait and pray
that she'd find you—both her fate and dread--
So she could serve as wife, yet plot her flight.
Her mourning is not for some lover past,
but for the lost sea;  her refugee's plight.
To live without home is a dreary fast.
She's beholden to you until her skin is found.
You've taken her soul and kept it bound!

Brother Ian,

I am a scientist, not some damn fool!
I will never abide such nonsense tales.
Grandmother was mad, and you are cruel
to spout such rot! My mind simply fails
To comprehend your rambling missive.
I need you rational and clear of head--
Not  superstitious and derisive!
I am trapped in hell with a woman bred
For endless sadness, pain, and grieving,
But no love for me, no rapt receiving 

Of my tender care and adoration.  
At just twenty-one, my face is aging.
Ruddy with drink and dark creation.
You must help us stop the war we're staging.
Please come at once, so your peaceful ways
might soothe our ire and contain my drinking.
And you'll be a distraction in Leahla's days--
She'll have a new guest to serve and clean for;
A task to keep her from the tempting shore.

Dear Ian,

Grand to hear of your imminent calling!
I've told Leahla to take a fine shopping spree,
And prepare a bounty of goodness sprawling.
And Ian, I have begged her to forgive me
And she held me tight and whispered thus: 
“Dear, I cry for you, in my helpless love.”
You see? Already you're a charm for us!
Perhaps like long-hidden sun through the gray above,
Your mere presence will warm our troubled home,
And curb Leah's lustful urge to roam.

My Dear One,

Finn, you cared for me as a cherished guest.
Thank you for kindness while I was there.
I hope your lovely Leahla will take some rest,
For so attentive she was to my every care
That I worried for her own well-being.
Indeed, she is a rare gem to cherish;
Care well for her or your bond will perish!
I hope to hear by post in a fortnight's time
That your marriage is in it's loving prime.

Dear Ian,

Return at once! For I'm sick with grieving,
Leahla has been gone--five days duration!
I can find her nowhere, and since your leaving,
Your absence dampened our first elation-- 
The poison resentment returned unpurged,
She mourned again, so I grew enraged,
And my unwitting fists rose fast and surged
To strike her again! I fear she has fled
Dear Ian—forever! And I am dead.

Dear One,

Finn, you must accept the hand you were dealt.
But you will not forgive me this, I think:
I returned to Leahla her stolen pelt
I sought in the cottage at Gavin's Drink,
Packed in a crate, long forgotten by you.
Finn, from when I very first read your letters  
I fell in love with Leahla, and that love grew.
Yet I held my passion in iron fetters
Out of respect for you, dear brother Finn
But a love so ardent will always win.

It seems she chose to return to the sea,
Rather than burn her pelt and stay your wife.
But had you listened to her painful plea
For the freedom to return to her former life, 
She would have felt that you esteemed her so
That she'd have come to love you true.
But in your rage, you made her grief your foe,
And when at last she got her pelt, she flew
To the seaside, where into the sea she dove
Beneath the waves, to her seal-home's cove

Dearest Brother Ian,

When you read this, I shall be drowned.
I will follow Leahla into the sea's cold black 
I'm sorry, my dear brother, but I have found
Not a moments' solace with Leahla's lack.
In hell or heaven, it will be the same
This sickening loss of my priceless wife
And it's my fault alone; my deepest shame
I cannot thrive without her--my life!
Nor will I forgive your betrayal, brother.
I will die hating you in the sea's thick smother.

 --Kristen McHenry

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