Friday 24 January 2014

Sea Lion Woman: A Selkie Story for a New Millennium - by Laura Marjorie Miller

Harbor seal at Seal beach, La Jolla, California. © Ralph Pace

I am delighted to welcome Laura Marjorie Miller to the blog. Laura writes about travel, Yoga, magic, myth, fairy tales, photography, marine conservation, and other soulful subjects. She is a regular columnist at, contributing editor at Be You Media, and public-affairs writer at UMass Amherst, and has a feature forthcoming in Yankee magazineHer work has appeared at Tripping, GotSaga, and Dive News Network, in the Boston Globe and Parabola. She is based in Massachusetts, where she lives with a cat named Huck. 

In this thoughtful piece, Laura considers the tragic beauty of the selkie legends, and wonders if it's time to find a new way of retelling and interpreting them.  The wonderfully moody photographs appear by kind permission of Ralph Pace, and the magical illustrations are courtesy of Scottish artist Kate Leiper  Many thanks to both.

My favorite place in all of Boston is outside the harbor seal habitat at the New England Aquarium. The seals, shining silver-grey, their thick oily coats spattered with inky speckles, glide back and forth by the glass. Sometimes they barrel-roll to soar on their backs, navel slits to the sky, flippers folded like wings. Sometimes they bob vertically in the water like corks, serene expressions on their faces.

Every time I’m in Boston, no matter where in town I am, I’m aware of their presence. I am pulled to them, the shredded iron filings of me to the steady strong magnet of them. One doesn’t even have to pay admission to the aquarium to watch the seals, but can view them from outside, so once I park my car, I race there along the pavement of the harbor wharf. It is all I can do in public not to break into sobs at their beauty. I stand by the glass, weeping silently with longing, undried tears coating my cheeks with a rime of salt water, but also smiling with unaccountable joy. I want to be with them. I am a river running to their ocean.

I love seals, and because I am a woman who loves seals, and loves mythology and folktales, merfolk and sea songs, I love selkies. I love them not for the tragic nature of their stories but because they are both human and seal.

Part of the utter core of the traditional selkie story is that the selkie, in the end, leaves. So naturally, my boyfriend, knowing I love both selkies and stories, started to become alarmed, thinking that I would leave him the same way. I told him our story was different, because I choose to be with him.

And that was when I realized that we all need a new selkie story, that our myths can guide us but not lock us: that there can be a new, variant myth, not to replace the old, but to give a sense of possibility, both for the relationships between lovers, and also humans and animals: to shine in the world in its newness.

The old selkie story has a basic, archetypal framework. Details swirl around and modify these fundamental components: a fisherman sees a mysterious woman emerge from a sealskin, at night on a beach, perhaps to dance with her kin under the moonlight or perhaps in her own private reverie. He falls in love with the sight and idea of her, and knowing by lore that she is a selkie, a seal woman, he knows that if her pelt is in his possession then she is under his rule. Without her skin she cannot return to the sea. So he steals and stashes her skin.

When she realizes her skin is missing she is distraught. He then reveals himself to her. She follows him home to be his wife. She apparently has no choice.
Whether the woman is attracted to the fisherman or not, we are never told. He begets children on her, and they live a pleasant enough existence, but there is always something melancholy about her, an absence, a way of gazing yearningly towards the sea. One day, one of her children will discover something like an oilskin raincoat in a trunk in the attic, or stuffed into a notch in the eaves. Her son or daughter will ask her what it is. Her eyes will go wild with joy, and she will snatch her skin from him, clutch it to her breast, and say hasty farewells as she races to the beach. She cannot run fast enough for herself.

A Selkie Story © Kate Leiper 2009

Sometimes afterwards the selkie will keep watch on her family from the water, following their boats in the form of a seal: generations of descendants with webbed phalanges and distant expressions. Sometimes she is gone forever from the story, her husband pining away in regret.

But what if there were a new selkie story? One in which she chooses the man? One in which the man courts her, makes himself loveable to her, that she wants to come to him; that he loves her for being what she is, part seal, and knowing that, loves the wild part of her? And when she needs to, she runs to the ocean, pulls her skin back around her, swims with her family. She comes to back to land. Back and forth, as seals do anyway. While she is gone, he does man things.

The story has drama, just not the inevitability of failure. The crux of the new story is its inner quarrel, the bit of resistance in the man, her uncertainty with him, and the back-and-forthing within them that gives way to purer love. Such would be a new possibility, and a new way.

The old selkie story is both about the relationship between lovers, and our relationship to the wild. In the way that sometimes humans in our weakness try to control our loved ones, through manipulation, through emotional blackmail, sometimes even through abuse and coercion, because we fear that their independence means they will leave and betray us, or that their self-sovereignty implies faithlessness, in the same way we have been doing things wrong in regards to animals, and so have trapped ourselves: keeping animals in tanks, in enclosures, jars, bowls, corrals. We seldom do this out of purposeful cruelty, or even sheer profitable callousness, but so much oftener out of misguided love. So since the story is made of love, it is malleable, it can be reoriented, rewritten, redeemed.

What we love in wild animals is their wild nature, their otherness, but for some reason that is the first thing we want to take away from them. In our infancy, both historical and personal, we wanted to contain it. I don’t think we always took animals from distant lands and kept them in iron enclosures with concrete floors solely to display our dominance over the exotic and oriental: maybe that was part of it, but not all. Knowing what I know of humans, I suspect it is because we wanted to marvel at their beauty, and have it close by, without fully understanding that separating them from their environment would eventually kill them. A child who puts a mantis in a jam jar does not do that out of an impulse to dominate: she does it because she loves it, she wants to keep it, to behold its angular alien elegance under the holes she has punched in the jar lid. She does not know otherwise; her curiosity is ignorant of consequences, and she wants to hold the moment of that joy forever. She does not want it to be over.

We fear the moment the creature leaves us. We fear we will be left behind, that it will not choose us.

So instead of courting the selkie as a decent man would, the fisherman traps her. He takes away her ability to choose him and so his story ends tragically, because he stole her life. But if he had taken a chance of not being chosen, of being patient, of allowing her to come and go, she may actually have come to love him, and he would have continued to behold her in her true nature, not in a diminished form.

A Selkie Story © Kate Leiper 2009

Compelling is bad magic no matter how it’s done. Any savvy and sensitive magic-user knows that love-spells, with their undertones of binding, come with a price: which is their success. Their success is their curse. If you get what you think you want, you will never know whether you are freely loved, whether that person would have chosen you if you had not forced them. Forever, while you are with them, something gnaws at the underneath of you, the wrongness of what you have done, taken their free will, stowed their skin, and stolen a love that should have by rights been freely given. Although in my life I seem to insist on learning things the hard way, this sounds so utterly miserable for both parties that I have never even been tempted to test it. I have heard enough tell of those who have.

Forcing something against its nature is the dark side of tameness. If you have seen the children’s-book-like French movie Le Renard et l’Enfant, The Fox and the Child, you know that it is very frank about wildness versus tameness, and arguably the opposite of the fox-taming discussion in The Little Prince. The little girl grows to befriend and love a wild fox, but over the course of the movie you feel the dread of the inevitable drawing nearer, as the girl’s affections start to close in on the fox, like the collar-like scarf she puts around the fox’s neck. We sense what will happen when the protagonist finally lures the fox in her house. But again, like the fisherman in the selkie story, the girl does what she does out of yearning, out of wanting to keep.

In our culture, we used to collect nature without an afterthought, to stick it in iron cages, to make its sensitive and articulated paws walk on flat concrete surfaces, so that we could possess it. Increasingly, to do this seems so absurd, as though we are suddenly shaking ourselves awake: ‘What are we doing?’

In the last several years, and rising faster and faster, there has been an upwelling of consciousness, through the movies The Cove and Blackfish, about the high cost of keeping marine mammals in captivity: in human casualties and injuries, but also, quite spectacularly, awareness of the cost to the animals themselves: the trauma to their families, emotionally bonded in ways that we can only begin to comprehend, so much that their families are their very selves and taking someone out of the unit is like ripping off a body part, an unspeakable psychic torture that goes on and on. The collapse of their mighty bodies, visible in their sagging fins, which in the wild are pirate-masts of their spirits. The torment of imprisonment with strangers from other whale tribes who may bully and harass them and they have no means of defense or escape. The mockery and misuse of their might by being forced to do clown tricks. The acoustic torture of being trapped in a featureless concrete pit, the walls of which bounce their echolocation, meant to travel for hundreds of miles, back again and again into their sensitive ears. The torment of endless loneliness and utter isolation, unbearable except it offers no choice except to be borne.

Yet I sense that something is changing, and rapidly so. I don’t know quite what caused it, this waking-up, this critical mass, but something is indeed happening that can’t be denied anymore, or stopped: human people have begun to care more about animals for the animals’ own sake, through recognition of their intelligence and consciousness, and the implications of those. We are seeing them increasingly as other peoples, their own and different tribes, with their own perceptions and languages. A zoo mentality is giving way to a sanctuary mentality, a rehabilitation mentality. There is an urgency and impatience now for change. The change has already happened, and like the River Isen when the Ents break its dam in The Lord of the Rings, and release the river, consciousness comes rampaging through and cannot be re-contained. What has seen cannot be unseen, and what is known cannot be unknown.

All that remains is for reality to catch up with it. Rachel Clark, in a stunning essay in Psychology Today  calls Blackfish a bellwether presaging “more than cetacean freedom. It foreshadows an urgent global uprising to set things right everywhere. We are seeing an international frenzy for justice.”

The selkie story calls out to us for justice in territories of personal and natural concerns, in both cases about power. And that is why we need a new story. One that explodes the old model of grabbing and holding and stealing life and freedom just because one wants it. One that celebrates the sovereignty of other beings, human or non-human. One that is a ballad of justice.

Myths live in us, in response to us. So the new selkie story is this: that we trust whom we love. That we try to win their love so that through their own agency they choose to be with us. That we be brave enough to gamble our fear of loss. That we accept that just because we want to possess a being, no matter how badly we want to keep it, its right to be sovereign over its own life will always outweigh our desire to possess it. That freedom will always trump desire. That we are responsible for protecting that freedom in one another, that it is never ours to take, by any means.

We can write a new selkie story, to coexist with the old. The old will continue to exist as an instruction manual of what not to do, a sorrow, a caution. We can chant this new one by driftwood fires, and the seals in their wildness can spyhop to listen, dark eyes regarding us from the night ocean. Or they can ignore us altogether, as is their right. But one thing is sure: except for their own private and tribal reasons, seals should never be sorrowful.

As I am standing by the seal tank, a little girl next to me says to her mother, ‘What are they dreaming about in there?’ Her mother answers, ‘I don’t know; what do you think?’ ‘I think they are dreaming of being back in the ocean,’ the little girl says firmly.

The new selkie story is already being written. The new world has already begun.

Harbor seal, © Ralph Pace

Postscript: A song for pinnipedal people, seal and soul, clan and clade, Otariidae, Odobenidae, Phocidae, for all who have an ancestor who grabbed her sealskin and ran toward the waves. For women and men, and all other wild creatures:

Feist, ‘Sea Lion Woman’

Monday 20 January 2014

Perilous seas in faerie lands forlorn

In this fabulous picture, Arthur Rackham depicts the beauty, vastness and terror of the sea as a white storm-goddess. There's a shipwreck behind her, and before her, dwarfed on the strand, is a bedraggled mariner who looks as though he very much ought to flee. She's the  embodiment of the terrifying waves we've all been seeing photographed in the news over the last few weeks, like this one from the BBC website

It's at times like these that we're reminded of what our ancestors always knew: the sea is dangerous. We can walk along its edges, we can set out across it in our frail boats; we can even swim and dive in it, but always with a risk.  We don't belong there, we can't live there.  And so we're fascinated by the animals that do: we tell tales about them.  The seals, so like ourselves: warm-blooded breathing mammals - surely they must be magical creatures, to be able to inhabit this place we can't survive in? We follow them in imagination into their strange underwater world. We make myths of mermaids and selkies.

Mermaids and selkies represent the Other – they look like humans but they aren’t, or perhaps they are only half human.  In all the folklore I’ve read about mermaids, they have no souls, and sometimes they mourn this and sometimes they don’t care…  Hans Andersen’s little mermaid will disappear like foam on the sea if she doesn’t win a soul: but when she does gain a soul, she stops being a mermaid.  She becomes a spirit of the air, a sort of angelic Christian spirit – and so in either case she ceases to be, or at least loses her identity...

Most mermaid stories are sad.  Some mermaids are actively dangerous. One Greek legend tells of a giant mermaid who rises out of the sea to demand of passing ships, ‘What news of King Alexander?’  Unless she receives the response, ‘He lives, and reigns, and conquers the world!’ she wrecks the ship in her fury.  So mermaids are also a metaphor for the beauty and danger of the sea, which has the power to wreck ships and take men’s lives.  There’s a lot going on in mermaid stories.

All fiction is affected by contemporary concerns.  Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’ was concerned with salvation because he wrote in a highly Christian century.  Nowadays, in our multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-everything society, I think writing about mermaids offers an opportunity to explore issues of trust and communication between individuals who may look different from one another, who may appear to come from different worlds.   What is it to be ‘human’?  How do we define it?  How do we recognise similarities and reconcile differences?  In very different ways, Liz Kessler’s 'Emily Windsnap' books and Helen Dunmore’s ‘Ingo’ and its sequels explore these questions, as well as issues of pollution and climate change. In 'Ingo', merfolk and humans were once one people, who have diverged and now live in separate worlds - except that each race still impacts the other.  Liz Kessler's 'Emily Windsnap' is a little girl who herself bridges the gap: her father is mer, her mother human.  To which world does she belong?  Is it always necessary to choose?

And what about the original legends, such as the Cornish Mermaid of Zennor or the Scottish selkie and kelpie stories?  The legends are tremendously inspiring - but you have to think about them, find out what they are saying to you.  I wrote about the selkies, the shape-shifting seal people, in ‘Troll Mill’, the second part of my trilogy ‘West of the Moon’.  The legend is of a fisherman who sees the selkies dancing on the moonlit beach in the form of lovely women, and he snatches up one of their discarded sealskins so that the selkie girl can’t escape into the sea.  She has to marry him and bear his children, but one day she finds where he’s hidden the sealskin.  At once she throws it on, returns to the sea and abandons him and her human (half-human?) children forever.

For me, this legend seemed to be about the difficulty of understanding one another, even in a bond as close as marriage – in a sense, one’s partner is always the Other.  It speaks of the power struggle between couples – and the grief of a failed partnership – and, very strongly I thought, about the new mother’s plunge into post-natal depression.  And that was how I used it in my book, though keeping the magic and lyricism. In my short mermaid book ‘Forsaken’, the human-mer partnership is the other way around, based on an old Scandinavian ballad about a Mer-king who marries a mortal woman, and one day she hears the church bells ringing above the sea, and goes back to the land and leaves him forever.  Rarely in folklore do these stories end happily.  But I read the legend, and my spine tingled, and I wanted to see what would happen if one of the half-mer children went looking for her mother…  Would the ending be different?

Margo Lanagan, in ‘The Brides of Rollrock Island’ (Australian title 'Sea Hearts') has found something quite different in the selkie legends (see her post and my review).  In her book, the seals are  manipulated and transformed in a way which denies their nature and damages the wrongdoers.  It’s a marvellous book which will keep me thinking for – I suspect – years.  The beautiful women who step out of the seal carcasses appear, to the rough island men who have obtained them like mail-order brides, to be the culmination of delight: but they and their sons must live year in, year out, bearing the guilt of the seal women’s ever-present mild but steadfast grief.

Franny Billingsley’s ‘The Folk Keeper’ is another story which is concerned with questions of identity and belonging, a wonderfully creepy take on the selkie legend.  And Gillian Philip’s ‘Firebrand’ and ‘Bloodstone’ include not only selkies, as sinister death-omens, but her heroes of the Sithe, the Scottish faeries, ride kelpies too (water horses from the lochs): sleek and dangerous and man-eating.  Kelpies appear again in Maggie Stiefvater’s wonderful ‘The Scorpio Races’, an evocative and thrilling story of racing the savage water horses on a wild Scottish island.  Should men take and attempt to tame these otherworldly creatures?  Is it courage or cruelty?  Should they, perhaps, be left to their own world and their own nature?

These are all strong, wonderfully written books.  If you feel like taking a plunge into the perilous seas of fairyland, do try them!  And on Friday, the blog will continue to explore the selkie theme with a guest post from Laura Marjorie Miller.


Friday 10 January 2014

Faerie cities

This wonderful little city stands as if sprung from the soil, in a neighbour's garden. It reminds me of the medieval French city of Carcassonne, whose name was used by Lord Dunsany for a faerie city in one of his tales; though rather oddly he seems to have picked the name from a reference in a friend's letter and never to have known it is the name of a real place.:

Some had heard of it in speech or song; some had read of it and some had dreamed of it. ...Far away it was, and far and far away, a city of gleaming ramparts rising one over the other, and marble terraces behind the ramparts, and fountains shimmering on the terraces. To Carcassonne the elf-kings with their fairies had first retreated from men, and had built it on an evening late in May by blowing their elfin horns. Carcassonne!  Carcassonne!

This little fairy city - for me - irresistably conjures a beautiful poem of Kipling's, from 'Puck of Pook's Hill'.

CITIES and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die:
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again.

This season's Daffodil,
She never hears,
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's;
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance
To be perpetual.

So Time that is o'er-kind
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
"See how our works endure!"

Saturday 4 January 2014

In The Library of Imaginary Books

Deep in the enclaves of Unseen University (in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, in case anyone reading this doesn’t already know) is the University Library, where the presence of so many books has warped space into a mysterious form called L-space (or Library-space) expressed by the equation:

Books are entrances into other worlds: in UU Library this is not a metaphor. And, a consequence of the properties of L-space, the shelves contain every book ever written, unwritten or yet to be written. Terry Pratchett's UU Library is thus - probably - different from Jorge Luis Borges' Biblioteca de Babel, in which the books additionally contain every possible combination of the letters of the alphabet - and are therefore mostly gibberish.

Librarian of the Discworld as he appears in The Discworld Companion, illustrated by Paul Kidby

The Babel library would be a bad place to work. I would like, therefore (if I have the Librarian’s permission), to take you on a small tour of UU library, concentrating on a section I often like to visit: the section for Imaginary Books.  These, of course, are books which exist only between the covers of other books and are therefore fictional to the power two: fiction². I’ve delighted in many such titles over the years, so let’s tiptoe past the chained, uneasily-slumbering grimoires of UU Library’s extensive magical sections, and I’ll show you my favourites.

The first is ‘The Orange and the Apple’, which exists between the covers of Arthur C Clarke’s ‘A Fall of Moondust’, the story of a ‘moon-bus’ full of passengers which plunges into the deep soft dust of the Sea of Tranquillity following a moon-quake. During the desperate rescue operation which ensues, the trapped passengers organise an entertainment to keep their minds off claustrophobia and the fear of death. It may not be one of Clarke’s best-known novels, but it contains some good character sketches and is often very funny. The passengers take turns reading aloud the only two novels on board, Jack Schaefer’s classic western ‘Shane’ and a ‘new historical romance’ ‘The Orange and the Apple’, featuring an affair between Sir Isaac Newton and Nell Gwynne. Let me reach it down from the shelf for you: a cheap paperback with a lurid cover and a cracked spine:

The author certainly wasted no time. Within three pages, Sir Isaac Newton was explaining the law of gravitation to Mistress Gwynne, who had already hinted that she would like to do something in return.

…“Forsooth, Sir Isaac, you are indeed a man of great knowledge. Yet, methinks, there is much that a woman might teach you.”
“And what is that, my pretty maid?”
Mistress Nell blushed shyly.
“I fear,” she sighed, “that you have given your life to the things of the mind. You have forgotten, Sir Isaac, that the body, also, has much strange wisdom.”
“Call me ‘Ike’,” said the sage huskily, as his clumsy fingers tugged at the fastenings of her blouse.

Close beside this on the shelves is an array of titles from Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. There’s the Guide itself, of course, clearly an e-book on an e-reader:

…a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters.

That was written in the late 1970’s, so you can see the power of L-space right there.  Next to the Guide is an entire bookcase sagging beneath the weight of the many volumes of the Encyclopaedia Galactica. Oh, and here are a couple of paperbacks which look to have been much thumbed by the wizards of Unseen University - so long as they’re sure no other wizard is watching: Eccentrica Gallumbits’ ‘The Big Bang Theory, A Personal View’, and ‘Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Sex But Have Been Forced To Find Out’. Next on the shelf - in a far more pristine condition - is Oolon Colluphid’s galaxy-rattling series of popular theological texts: ‘Where God Went Wrong’, ‘Some More of God’s Greatest Mistakes’, ‘Who Is This God Person Anyway?’ and ‘Well That About Wraps It Up For God’.

If you’re not interested in science, or philosophy, we can move on to the literary biographies.  Here's one I’ve always wanted to read: ‘Pard-Spirit: A Study of Branwell Brontë’ by one Mr Mybug - nestling within the pages of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Cold Comfort Farm’. It’s a handsome looking hardback. I suspect he had to pay for its publication, but he made sure there was a large and arty black and white photograph of himself on the back of the dust jacket.

‘It’s goin’ to be dam good,’ said Mr Mybug. ‘It’s a psychological study, of course, and I’ve got a lot of new matter, including three letters he wrote to an old aunt in Ireland, Mrs Prunty, during the period when he was working on Wuthering Heights.’ He glanced sharply at Flora to see if she would react.

‘It’s obvious that it’s his book and not Emily’s. No woman could have written that. It’s male stuff… Secretly, he worked twelve hours a day writing Shirley and Villette - and of course, Wuthering Heights. I’ve proved all this by evidence from the three letters to old Mrs Prunty.  His letters to her are little masterpieces of repressed passion. They’re full of tender little questions… he asks her how is her rheumatism… has her cat, Toby, “recovered from the fever”… … how is Cousin Martha (and what a picture we get of Cousin Martha in those simple words, a raw Irish chit, high-cheekboned, with limp black hair and clear blood in her lips!) …’


Oh look - here, bound in leather and lying on a slanting wooden stand, is the Magician's Book from the 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'! I flick back the two lead clasps which hold it shut, and lift open the cover to reveal beautiful illuminated vellum pages filled with spells -

cures for warts (by washing your hands by moonlight in a silver basin) and toothache and cramp, and a spell for taking a swarm of bees...

... how to find buried treasure, how to remember things forgotten, how to forget things you wanted to forget, how to tell whether anyone was speaking the truth...

Dangerous stuff, all of it.  I can see you're taking a little bit too much interest, so I close the cover and fasten the clasps (the book tingles and buzzes under my fingers as I do so) and we move on.

Ah! Here, sticking quite a long way out from the shelf and leaning slantwise to fit, is a tall folio manuscript bound in a red leather cover. The catalogue label coming unstuck from the spine reads: 'Travel: Imaginary'.  I pull it tenderly out.  Odd though it may seem, this could be the most valuable book in the entire section.  It's written 'in a wandering hand' in spiky black ink with lots of curlicues. The title page has many titles on it, crossed out one after another: so:

My DiaryMy Unexpected Journey. There and Back Again.  And What Happened AfterAdventures of Five Hobbits. The Tale of the Great Ring, compiled by Bilbo Baggins from his own observations and those of his friends. What We Did in the War of the Ring.

Here Bilbo's hand ends, and Frodo has written:

Bilbo and Frodo's own autobiographical account!  I know you'd love to stand here and leaf through it, but today I'm just showing you what's on the shelves, and we haven't time.  You can come back by yourself another day.

How do you fancy Victorian poetry? Courtesy of A S Byatt’s ‘Possession’, allow me to pull out this stout green book, the ‘Collected Poems of Randolph Henry Ash’ including of course ‘The Garden of Proserpina’ and ‘Ask to Embla’ -

No?  Then how about my own preference, this slim volume in limp violet suede, with faded spine and curling corners, whose embossed gold title reads simply ‘The Fairy Melusine’ by Christabel LaMotte, a writer who owes a clear debt to Emily Dickinson. As we pluck it from the shelf, out flutters a loose manuscript sheet with a poem on it:

It came all so still
The little Thing -
And would not stay -
Our Questioning -
A heavy Breath -
One two and three -
And then the lapsed Eternity -
A Lapis Flesh
The Crimson - Gone -
It came as still
As any Stone -

Is there anything you'd like to see that I haven't shown you?  It'll be here.  Just let me know...