Kelp Claws

Illustrated by Steven Affleck

Listen; because you fear being lost within me

I am going to talk as if I am the North Sea

My breath rolls in to fog up spectacles and seep into your skin

I admit, these salty kisses leave hungry men love bitten,

I’ve lapped at the snags of unfaithful fingertips and hissed 

Wade in wade in wade in

To my blurred grey horizons

At first watch they seemed undemanding, flattening

into silvery beaches and a gruff accent.

It told you at once: 

I cannot give you the wildnerness

I cannot build you a windswept west coast island

But look, my edges are softening

under the lull of your damp paws, I’ve grown muckle backit

stooping to carry you offshore in a blanket of white haar.

It was winter at Catterline

when you came to me;

the tangled roots of your chestnut hair streaming

through my kelp claws, my grasping

thrawn hands some think too cold

for big romance

At first touch they lay warming against the hearth

of your hollowed chest


in loving you

I’ve ceased to exist outwith.


I join the fishwives, perched atop the harbour wall

cradling creel and child, left behind

to keep the fires burning, to set the oil lamps alight.

Though this is not martyrdom;

these little things that make up our living.


Here Clytie will not die, but lives

each indigo night to pace the shorelines

in striped petticoats.

Stretching on calloused tiptoes

she rips the turnsoles from the rocks

and crunches over the ancient bones of those who,

like you, have traced the meandering curves

of my cupid’s bow,

knew my overflowing river’s mouth

Aber, Inver, Amhuinn

It will tell you at once:

In loving we wade in wade in wade in

To a stygian embrace

It unnerves,


unpeels our sealskins.