We rowed all afternoon and didn’t speak. When the beeswax in our ears dripped down our beards, we heard the singing, women’s voices trilling a melody we knew but could not place.
We dropped our oars and leaned against the gunwales, looking toward the harbor dotted with rocks where groggy seals barked and sprawled, their figures frisking in the foam of combers breaking.
The song grew louder then, flooding the air with strains that made our hearts beat in our ears. Our pumping blood accompanied the music it hurt to hear, but hurt more not to hear.
The seals lifted their heads as if to catch the song inside their mouths, their jaws gaping, their sleek bodies bobbing to the rhythm, swaying together in a kind of trance.
We wanted to be the seals, to feel our bellies slap against cold stone, our wet fur gleaming as we cracked raw mussels with our teeth and dozed beside each other in the sun.
Misenus broke the spell, tossing the vat of wax at our feet, pointing and glaring at us until we pressed fresh clumps into our ears. Our thoughts sounded like wind inside a shell. [End Page 546]
Riding a long swell, we rose and fell into open water, leaving behind the islands. The surface of the sea glinted like fish scales. Our blades dipped in the waves and scudded foam. [End Page 547]
Brian Brodeur’s Natural Causes won the 2011 Autumn House Poetry Prize. His recent work appears in Copper Nickel, The Missouri Review, and Pleiades. He lives with his wife in Cincinnati, where he is an Elliston Fellow in Poetry in the English and Comparative Literature doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati.