9:2: “Courting Song for Selkies”, by Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica P. Wick...

  My mother always told me
  to pick up after myself. Didn’t yours?
  Shameful, the sea-scratched skin on the sand;
  it will rub against you like a bedfull of crumbs,
  like a kitten’s tongue licking,
  like a lash in the eye. I
  will keep it for you, wash it clean,
  fold it like a new shirt, put it away
  where the gulls won’t peck at it. Imagine! A gull for a wife!
  Would you not rather have me?

Oh, girl. Don’t you know
I’ll never press against your industrious hand;
you can’t scratch me like she does.
You can’t scrape my skin into a map
that tells of where I’ve been.
Listen to me, girl, you’re so lovely,
and so young;
the wave of your sun-scorched hair,
your snow-stitched lashes, even,
especially, your gray as sealskin eyes.
But give me back my skin.
It isn’t yours. It’s mine.

Wasn’t mine. Isn’t yours anymore.
I know the rules, beautiful,
I stitched them on my sleeves
when I was a small girl, when my grandmother said
the sea gave me my eyes. I know
more than you think, I’ll scratch
better than any crab-claw fingered sea-cow.
I know
how to knot the wind into my hair
how to nail the tide to a door
how to bottle up a wish, sweep fortune from the shore.
It’s only I haven’t had to yet. Don’t leave,
don’t go, not ’till I’ve had my fill of you, salt boy,
sweet boy. You smell like the round white moon,
like waves and sea-glass,
like the air before dawn.
This skin just smells like fish.

I see you’re very wise.
Give me back my skin.
It isn’t yours. It’s mine.

Was yours. Now mine.
Ours, if you’ll come a little closer.
Silky, sweetsea, I love you, I want you,
you’re nicer than the other boys, your voice
is dawn silver silk water cool on my cheek,
and I want to kiss you, I want
to be a ring ’round your finger, seal-boy, beauty,
I want to pull you in and play you like a flute.
I could love you so hard, so strong,
they’d write songs of us. Come home, selkie,
come home with me. My bed is too dry, my sheets
too bland; they want salting, sweet thing, they do.

And what of my want?
I can’t speak; I can’t say no.
Not when you’ve where I’ll go in your hands.
I will go to your home.
I will stay in your bed.
I will stray from the mouth of the sea;
I will sing when you ask, and laugh when I want;
I’ll wear boots, I’ll work with wood, I’ll work you.
I will comb your dry hair and palm your sharp hip.
I’ll coax the sea out of your bones;
but then I’ll coax the sea out of your eyes.
So love me as hard, as strong as you can;
you keep the waves from me and I,
precious-girl, jewel-box, little-gull,
won’t stop myself: I won’t be able to touch it
except when you weep, so you’ll weep
until you can’t lick your mouth for the salt.
But I’ll take it; I’ll kiss you, little bee,
when you smell of laundry,
when you smell of juniper, of moss,
of wine, of wonder, of longing,
of coffee, but beneath it all you’ll smell of brine.
Listen, girl. Give me back my skin.
It isn’t yours. It’s mine.

I know the rules, I told you, I know them.
Your skin is mine, but the story’s yours.
That’s fine as a rainless day, sea-lad,
fine as honey from my grandma’s hives.
I don’t want your story. I want your hands, your neck
beneath my fingers, your sea-soft hair,
your strange eyes and your slipperiness.
I want your skin. I have it. You’ll get it back in time,
when the story wakes like a thunderhead
to split my sky apart. I’ll cry,
I’ll slick the sand to silk for you,
I’ll pour my eyes all out, and you
will never love me like you’ll love to leave me,
but I want you all the same.

Please. Give me back my skin.


Amal El-Mohtar travels a great deal, but a carefully blended mixture of Outaouais riverdamp, cedar needles, and Damascene dust applied to her soles ensures that she’s never too far from home. She is currently pursuing the elusive beast that is a PhD in Cornwall, England, sharpening her quills for the hunt.

Her poems have appeared in numerous online publications, including Mythic Delirium, Chiaroscuro, Abyss & Apex, Aberrant Dreams, Sybil’s Garage, Astropoetica and Star*Line; The Honey Month, a collection of spontaneous poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different honeys, is available from Papaveria Press. Amal also blogs at Voices on the Midnight Air, and co-edits Goblin Fruit, an online quarterly dedicated to poetry of the fantastic, with the notorious Jessica P. Wick, who is known to have shaved two letters off her last name in a vain attempt to hide her true nature.

Jessica Paige Wick survives earthquakes, wildfires and internet malfunctions (phew, that last) on a semi-regular basis. She lives in California, where she co-edits Goblin Fruit with that most nefarious of editrices, Amal El-Mohtar. She likes masks, foxes and descent myths. The topmost books on the pile by her bed are Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Was A Junior / Betsy and Joe.

8:1: “The Night Sisters”, by Amal El-Mohtar...

Their clever fingers held the sheet
on three sides, gripped it like a secret
clutched close to the heart, like the stars
they dreamt of in the darkness. White
was the colour of difference, a sharp
hot teasing behind their eyes, that saw only sky

when the sky was dark, and darkness, the sky.
It wound about them like a sheet
made for binding wounds sliced sharp
as shards of obsidian, sharp as a secret
whispered splintering into the ear. White, white
as the moon-scratched snow, they dreamt the stars.

But stars will not stay in dreams. Stars,
with their many pin-points, long to prick the sky
to tearing, tearing, long to spindle their white
needle arms into the soft, sweet velvet sheet
and tease from it a secret
hot and sweet and sharp.

One sister wept. “Sharp
are my dreams, tonight, sisters; these stars
will not stay put, wriggle and prick my secret
thoughts ’till the wide dark sky
seems like nothing more than a sheet
of water that thirsts for white

to drink, white
to shine like darkness on hematite. O, sharp
are my dreams, sisters, so sharp that this sheet
we keep shall be chewed ragged by these moth-like stars
who hunger for the sweet black sky
that we grip like a solemn secret.”

They worked together in secret,
teased scissors from their dreams, white
and silver in handle and blade. They cut up the sky
to spare it pain, made each hole sharp
enough to fit the many-fingered stars,
sharp as a nightbird’s cry, or the cracks in a sheet

of ice. They worked ’till the sky was no longer one secret,
’till it was was a sheet of music reversed, white
on blueblack, and the scissored night
rang sharp with the singing of stars.

Amal El-Mohtar currently hails from all over the Levant and across the wild, soggy moors of south-west England; she has been known to reflect upon the fact that she is less a creature of flesh and blood than wanderlust and dust. When not haggling Damascene merchants down or missing train stations, she can sometimes be found scribbling quietly in a corner, playing the harp or drinking unusual tea — sometimes all at once. She also co-edits an online quarterly dedicated to fantastical poetry called Goblin Fruit, and would like to state, firmly and publically for the record, that Jessica Paige Wick is the Evil Fate. She keeps a Livejournal at http://tithenai.livejournal.com.

Jess asked me — or rather told me, as is her wicked wont — to “write a sestina for the sisters who cut the stars into the sky.” I picked the end words, started, and about midway through had to restart because I’d messed up the sestina order and was trying to be a purist about it. It was a bit heartbreaking, because I’d come to love the stanzas I’d written for that order, but this is what came of it. I can’t help but think of it as somewhat diminished from what it was, but hopefully only in the way of the poor scissored sky.