“Bottle” by Sarah Webb

Waves had tumbled the bottle milky.
Inside she found a note:
I have seen you before.

The second bottle said,
You are beautiful.
A twisting snail shell pierced the paper.

The third and fourth,
If only we could be together.
These were liquor bottles–Cutty Sark
and a rum with most of the label gone.

The fifth bottle smelled of oranges.
Blossoms spilled out and a trace of white sand.

Cracks crazed the glass of a bottle
that knocked the pier in windy chop.
She cut her hand on the chipped glass.
You will never know … The rest was indecipherable.

Storm delivered the next high into dune grass.
I have seen you with him.

Then, almost to her steps,
You open these.
What is that but a promise?

Where it had lain, another a month later.
A broken promise.

None then for a year,
until at low tide, barnacled, half buried,
a smoky flask.
Something moved obscurely behind the muddy glass.
She carried it to her steps and sat beside it.
Waves moved inward from the deep.
The wind smelled of storm.
She left it unopened.

Another came and then another,
each uglier than the last.
She lined them beneath her hollyhocks.
I didn’t, I couldn’t, she whispered.

The sea lay calm as a lake, and the bottle bobbed.
No note inside the clear glass.
She turned it in her hands.
Scratched lines- ICANNOTFORGET,
the O’s diamonds, the last syllable trailing in despair.
When she walked up to the house,
the three in the flower bed were gone.

Spring came and went, and the bottle was rose,
sand-scoured and twined with the coils of a morning glory.
She passed it twice before she knelt to pick it up.
I forgive.
Will you?

They came then, sometimes years apart.
Light fills the water, they said.
The scallops clack and sing.
I move in the wave.

Then, You change.
She lifted her hand to her braid.
She supposed she had.

The last floated on moon water.
Her slow step took her to retrieve it
from wet that curled about her calves.
When she read it, she straightened.
She looked far out over the waves
where light glittered.

Come to me, it said.
And she nodded, yes.

Truancy 9, July 2021

BIO: Sarah is retired from teaching English at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. For over a decade she edited poetry for its interdisciplinary journal, Crosstimbers. She presently helps edit Just This, a magazine of the Zen arts. Her poetry collection Black (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013) was a finalist for the 2014 Oklahoma Book Award and for the 2014 Writers League of Texas Book Award. Her second collection, Red Riding Hood’s Sister (Purple Flag, 2018) was named a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.

Of the poem Sarah says: ““Bottle” draws on Scottish and Irish legends of Selkies, or seal folk, who live in the sea and who sometimes woo the humans on shore. Either man or woman, they take human form by shedding their seal skins and can live on land when the skin is off.  Sometimes Selkies come to live with human mates; sometimes they lure the loved one to the sea to live with them. Related stories are told of the Finfolk of the northern Scottish islands, who abduct shore dwellers to live with them in their home under the sea, mermans and mermaids, and gods of the sea such as the Greek god Proteus, who could shape shift into any form and who herded seals and other sea creatures.”

Truancy 9, July 2021