The Old Sailor’s Tale

By Alexandra Seidel


The ghosts gather cold air in their hands,

     weave it into winter wind

and touch the winter down her spine.


Okay, so here’s the story, the tale, the narrative, or

the rashomon of an old woman’s memories

that shift like a flicker-flame’s shadow.

When I was young as reeds, curious as a moth to burn,

I left my mother Raven’s home and went to sea.

And when our sails were fat with wind

I was a real sailor.


The ghosts gather as they always do.

     They would speak, whisper a verse of cold

Hades-seed into her ear, but their voices are



So I call myself a sailor, others have found other words.

          Hah! All’s fair out there

on the water

when the Western Wind blows and the waves slant just so

and only the night sky knows your course.

There was not a vessel in the salt could outrun us.


The ground beneath the ocean shakes


It is a heart that torments the water so

cast from its furnace out to sea

still shedding white singe-light.

     He still burns.

          He still lives.

   Someone up above is talking about him.


The spoils were sweet, but greed

     also tastes of honey.

There is a truth in riches, and it’s written in blood,

but I   I   I,

an errant raven’s daughter,

didn’t sail for spoils.

I sailed for the hunger, the wind against my feather-black hair.

Of course someone had to tell me about the dragon.


     draco, draconis, n.:   A dragon, creature with wings

and breath of fire; not wise, not evil, just ancient.

Must not be woken.


Eventually, I was the woman with the captain’s hat,

no one ever quite able to match a proper raven’s guile.

And I looked for the dragon, followed bread crumb black

amber on a silk soft shore, hunted strange fires

that dipped the sea in purple and greens when the stars were out.

They thought I was a little kooky

but only said out loud that I had lost my mind

when I had melt them down the gold

and drop the burning broth into the sea.

The plank for crazy Captain Raveneye,

     make her walk the plank!


He stirs again.

     He stirs and cannot keep himself from stirring.

There was another thing that he so wanted,

     but didn’t take when he could have.

Not yet, his fire heart—then drumming—said.

     Yet, he thinks, cracking an eye.


Me on the plank, the rest of them cheering, jeering,

leering as I walked the wood.

     That was when the dragon rose and set my sails on fire

     (eyes alabaster white, amethyst their center)

     That was when the maelstrom rose and broke my ship like bones

     (skin smooth-hot, soot-dark, sooth-slick)

     That was when fifty sailors’ voices rose, then vanished like the sun eclipsed

     (body less of serpent, more of water-raven, water-born mid-flight)

     That was when I rose back to the surface, raven lover lonely

     (tongue almost gentle on my ankle, teeth never quite breaking skin;

     not yet)

I would have drowned

          could I have drowned alone.


The ghosts try for speech again, want to find it

     in the fading light.

All they do is freeze the air, cage light in ice.


The coda is this:

     a woman old as raven-time and a young girl sailor

     stranded on the sea, story-sated.


the dragon

not rising

just waking.

A kiss good-bye from woman to sailor

and she jumps to meet him halfway down

where old water’s torn to burning smoke

where strange currents rise between the two.

     Up top the sailor girl grows raven eyes

     that cannot sleep, just dream.


Alexandra Seidel spent many a night stargazing when she was a child.These days, she writes stories and poems, something the stargazing
probably helped with. Alexa’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Fireside Magazine,
and elsewhere. She’d love it if you followed her on Twitter @Alexa_Seidel, liked her Facebook page ( SeidelWrites/), and read her blog: