When Robert Bly wrote “The Dead Seal near McClure’s Beach” and other poems in the Point Reyes series, he was, in his own words, attempting to “describe an object or a creature without claiming it, without immersing it like a negative in his developing tank of disappointment and desire.” These poems, set in the exquisitely beautiful but often violent part of the Northern California coastline around Point Reyes, focus on an unforgiving natural setting, whose very beauty is the siren’s call that can lead ultimately to destruction.
The narrator in this prose poem is walking north toward Point Reyes near McClure’s Beach when he spies ahead of him what appears to be a beached brown log. In line 1, even before he introduces the log metaphor, he tells his readers, “I come on a dead seal,” lying on its back. Just as he speculates that the seal has been dead for only a few hours, he notices that it quivers, sending out a momentary sign of life, and is dismayed.
He moves into a physical description of the seal, back arched, small eyes closed. Its back is covered with oil, the “oil that heats our houses so efficiently.” One flipper is folded over the stomach, “looking like an unfinished arm,” while the other “lies half underneath.” Bly compares the seal’s skin to an old overcoat, noticing that it has scratches possibly made by sharp mussel shells.
When the narrator reaches out to touch the dying seal, it rears...
(The entire section is 477 words.)