Daughters of the Skies

by Ingrid Steblea

"Once upon a time there was a poor peasant who had so many children that he did not have enough of either food or clothing to give them." — East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe (translated by George Webb Dasent, 1859)

We buy postcards before boarding, ten cents a dozen,
and scribble them margin to margin with nonsense:
Such a deal of skimble-skamble, flying us far from faith.
We slip them into the beaks of seagulls to carry to shore.
Smiting our noddles, pray you! You have been a boggler ever.

Giddy, gliding lotion over bare backs, our tawny knees golden as nuts;
everywhere there's a carnival air, the ship a floating holiday.

Below decks we perform the choreography of maps,
sketching circles with sepia ink, sweeping parabolas, 
catenary curves. We study the shining astrolabe,
drop lines of lead into the water. Like Daedalus, 
we ask how high, how deep.

The way is unknown to us, the constellations mute.
The patterns they describe 
could be heroes or herons.

In the silence, we touch,
revolving half-drunk around our shadows.
Courage, we whisper; stay the course.
The rotting oranges smell so sweet
in their barrel beneath the swaying hammocks,
the rain ruining the myth of the moon 
on the water.

She says, what are we seeking? And we answer, 
the door, the door (fibble-fabble), the door,
hauling strings of bonefish, dreamfish from the water.

What door, she asks, sorting shells from the maze of nets
she kneels in, her knees white from crushed cowries and salt-rime. 

The dawn comes, pale as the strange fish we return to the sea.
One of us drops our sextant into the water; another sews 
our compass into the belly of an eel. A third opens the leather sack 
containing the winds of the world: Boreas, Eurus, Zephyr.
At night we tell stories like children, tenting the sheets
over the lantern's globe of light. 

When we reach the shore we will travel 
to the troll queen's castle and offer to cook and sweep. 
The troll queen will croak, "Very well," 
handing us brooms and spoons —
	"Clean the whole of the castle, dungeon to spire
	...except the room behind the door with the ruby knob."
Whatever we do (she tells us), "do not open that door."

In the dark we keep our eyes shut tight, fearing spilled tallow, 
blindness. Seagulls circle, dropping lemons onto the stern. 
We bite into the bright fruit, peel and all. 

One of us finds a telescope among the driftwood. 
One of us stands at the prow and looks for land.

Ingrid Steblea's poetry has appeared in Rattle, The Seattle Review, Poem, and The Southern Anthology, among numerous other literary journals. In 2008, she won the 17th Annual Poet's Seat Poetry Contest and was the featured poet in Ouroboros Review. She and her husband have made their home in beautiful western Massachusetts, where they live with their daughter, Echo, and their son, Luke, a self-proclaimed Pirate Knight Superhero and lead singer of The Yahoo Awesome Band. He plays the keyboard with his feet. Her favourite fruit is the mango.

Back to Table of Contents