Rita Dove calls the Poetry Crisis Line

[Read the original here]


COUNSELOR: Poetry Crisis Line, what is your emergency?

CALLER: Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom,

COUNSELOR: Do you often wake up to go to the–

CALLER: waiting.

COUNSELOR: Oh. Have you tried drinking a glass of water?

CALLER: Sweat prickles behind my knees,

COUNSELOR: So you’re not dehydrated.

CALLER: the baby-breasts are alert.

COUNSELOR: So, um, is it harder for you to, uh, go when you’re, um…

CALLER: Venetian blinds slice up the moon;

COUNSELOR: I wouldn’t advise eating cheese in the bathroom. Wash your hands first, and go to the dining r—

CALLER: the tiles quiver in pale strips.

COUNSELOR: On second thought, maybe you should stay seated, right where you are.

CALLER: Then they come,


CALLER: the three seal men

COUNSELOR: Notaries? Did you ask for their seal on something, or did they just show up?

CALLER: with eyes as round / As dinner plates

COUNSELOR: Wait, you mean, like Navy SEALs? With night-vision goggles?


COUNSELOR: Are they armed?

CALLER: eyelashes like sharpened tines.

COUNSELOR: So… yes? But… um… that sounds really impractical.

CALLER: They bring the scent of licorice.

COUNSELOR: Uh…don’t get in the van?

CALLER: One sits in the washbowl,

COUNSELOR: Wait—when you said seal men, did you mean—

CALLER: One on the bathtub edge;

COUNSELOR: You did! You’re talking about actual selkies, aren’t you?

CALLER: one leans against the door.

COUNSELOR: I didn’t realize they showed up in groups.

CALLER: “Can you feel it yet?” they whisper.

COUNSELOR: Feel what?

CALLER: I don’t know what to say,

COUNSELOR: Honestly, neither do I.

CALLER: again.

COUNSELOR: So… this has happened to you before?

CALLER: They chuckle,

COUNSELOR: That’s not surprising. Strange emotional responses are something selkies are known for. Laughing at funerals, crying at weddings—

CALLER: Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.

COUNSELOR: That, not so much. Did they misplace their car keys? I thought they were supposed to come in from the sea.

CALLER: “Well,

COUNSELOR: From the well? I thought they preferred salt water.

CALLER: maybe next time.”

COUNSELOR: I have heard of seals swimming up a—

CALLER: And they rise,

COUNSELOR: Not up, just up a river.

CALLER: Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,

COUNSELOR: Could be. I’d imagined it in the daytime, but I don’t know what time a seal would swim upriver and—

CALLER: And vanish.

COUNSELOR: You mean literally? Or just under the surface?

CALLER: I clutch at the ragged holes / They leave behind,


CALLER: here

COUNSELOR: In your bathroom?

CALLER: at the edge of darkness.

COUNSELOR: Right. Um. Literal or metaphorical darkness?

CALLER: Night rests

COUNSELOR: So the night is resting, but you’re wide awake. How does that make you feel?

CALLER: like a ball of fur on my tongue.

COUNSELOR: So…kind of catty, then?