The Nautilus Shell

By Clara Skoog-Smyth


The Mermaid

the mermaid found a swimming lad

picked him for her own

pressed her body to his body

laughed and plunging down

forgot in cruel happiness

that even lovers drown

– W.B. Yeats

The Northern wind frayed the edges of the horizon where marbled winter skies caught the frothing tips of the ocean’s waves in ceaselessly churning cycles. From the sea it comes, the humming breeze and the brutal wind, it comes to call us, silky and sweet, turning sediments to sand and bones to dust caught in the whispering grasp of the unknown depths, of the turning tide painting pictures on the shores. In the deep it hides, where the dark and krill delight. In lilting melodies and base it travels from crest to crest of the unbroken waves.

The sea sings its love to the land and the land is lost to the sea.

The wind danced in rapturous gusts on the pebbled shores. Down the coast, through the caves, dancing, dancing, ceaselessly calling the sailors home to the sea. Calling the children that play on the sand and the Woollen Clad Crone, sitting bird like and hunched, beak nosed and small eyed glinting at the bleakness of the symphonically ringing sea.

I heard the cries echoing on the island’s isolating wind. The men, their nets entangled and held, like hooded monks hold rosary beads at dawn, preciously fingered, rubbed rough smooth in their calloused hands, black with grime, nails like the beetle’s back, soot stained and gleaming. I saw the white tipped tails of the seagulls whose arching flight licked the world’s division. Their cackling calls ringing rough in the sea sky world, as they call the mariner and the man back from those frayed and broken edges. Return, return, fall not into reflection, look to the land, to your earthy home, to your field, your sun, not the shifting changing sphere below. Let not the kelp and algae bind you in Scylla’s hold to the world of otters’ play.

The mariner whose life reflects in the sea’s turning waves, in her momentary smooth translucent edges, has a valid fear. For the sea hears his seashell heart and knows him as her own, to fill and to form, to wear down bare bone and carry on the silken lengths of her unfolding tides, unclasping like the cloak of a courtesan.

My own fear had brought me to the sea’s edge, to caress her artworks in the sand. To trace the beauty of her impression.

She had caught me.

She had turned my heart and mind from the brittle shell that was, tempting and enticing, calling and reminding. She poured herself into to my body like a cave at the tides rise and I, enticed and soothed in her completeness, in her love, allowed the waves’ crest to engulf the frayed edges of my calcified world.

It was that day that I became the sea.

I let my thoughts be cleansed by the waves, pulled out and dispersed until they drifted on tides, riding the white foamy tips, diving deep into the endless night of the ocean’s floor, skimming the sandy bottoms, skirting the caves and sunken ships, slipping into the mouths of fish, and dancing in the dappled light between the shoals of sardines flashing like the razors’ edge. Some travelled for a thousand years, lost in the beauty of it all as they waded through the muffled sounds of a dreamscape, others washed up a short distance away, eroding the rounded orbs of other people’s thoughts and in time they too joined us, stepping into the salted waves. Here we were no longer alone, that constraint had dissolved with our bodies, we were one with the sea.

Yet we could not leave, we held on. We held onto our memories both bitter and sweet, we held onto past loves and past encounters, entangled into a seething mass of ambiguity. Sometimes hatred and love trickled through, a constant struggle between our gentle caress of the pebbled shore and the tyrannical rage that had sunk so many ships. Occasionally we would encase the silky waters of the sea in a glassy canvas while below slipping between ancient ruins with worn mosaicked floors rubbed rough, each tile turned algae green while the colour of its origin, blue or red, vaguely shimmered beneath forests of coral and underwater shrubbery that sheltered small crabs, that like us slipped between the cracks.

If men were afraid of ghosts then we were surely them. Yet we had no houses but sunken ships to haunt and no one but whales and Porpoises to frighten. We were the endless ebbing tides, we were the currents and the tsunamis. We were, ironically, the heartbeat of the sea, despite the loss of each individual heartbeat. With tunes and whistling lullabies, we would entice the sailors down to Poseidon’s depths and fill their lungs like empty seashells.

We fell in love with a sailor once, whose hair was like the rays of sun that once had spread across the golden fields. His eyes were piercing green, like dappled leaves in summer and his voice in notes would rise from his small and shabby vessel and like a skipping stone ascend across the waters. But in our blissful happiness of love, we forgot who we had become and so we embraced him and plunging down did not notice his bubbling breath or his whitening skin. We did not see him drown. And he became us, his memories became entangled, his beautiful wife and two-year-old son, the old Labrador waiting for his return and the distant memory of his alabaster childhood home, but to us he had lost his earthy appeal and we had lost our love.

I found a vessel for my love, a love letter to the earth, to my loved ones and to my past, to all that I had left behind.

I found a Nautilus shell and with great care poured my whispering love into it.

If you should find it strewn along the beach, be it pebbled or sandy, be it spring or fall, listen to it.

It is a love letter from the sea.


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