In the Hands of the Sea, by Surnaí Molloy

A rapturous elegy to love

I went out into the garden, to the crag, and I sat on the bench and watched the light change in the sea; looking over the fields, the holy well, the standing stone. The mountains beyond the bay were blue with the evening. When I was a child, seasick on the ferry, I was told to look at those mountains. 

The sea glowed softly like happiness and I thought of you. But then I thought of how the summer would end and what would happen and how it would hurt. This island interlude, this brief unlikely alignment, would pass, and I would fly north and you would fly south. The evening was darkening and the sea was letting go of the light. I hugged my knees to myself while pale moths flickered, fluttered.

We’d spent a few days together, on the mainland, and the evening before, I’d opened the window and sat on the windowsill with legs dangling over the river while bats flickered, fluttered. The night was dark and warm and I trusted it; you were beside me. And in the morning, while we sat over the river, and little dippers motored along the water, you held me. And on the boat home to the island, then, I grasped your arm in excitement when dolphins leapt out of the golden road in the sea, and all of my love for the world was yours.

But on the island, on the crag, by deep trees, I sat alone and I thought and I worried. The night was dark now, hushed.

In a single breath, bright, white wings glided low over the field below and rested on the wall and looked at me with a moon face.

An owl… an owl!

The owl lifted away, white wings, silent.

Breathless, faint, I thought, all my life I have known my home but I have never known this. 

I walked the seven rounds of the well and with each round I dropped a stone and with each stone I said a name. And seven names came easily. And with each name, I wrapped that person in light and let them go. 

And with each round, I grew lighter and lighter until I kneeled at the well and washed my face and realized that I was very happy.

Each afternoon, after work, I went to the beach to swim, to wash away the worry; to come to my senses. I felt the breath in my body and I felt the water touch along the breadth of my body and I longed, then, to disappear in sensation, in sea, and so not be afraid.

I brought you to the well, and we walked the seven rounds, and I told you of Celtic wedding ceremonies, and of how this is where the woman is blessed. Then I brought you to the standing stone, to lay your hands upon it, for this is where the man is blessed. And we climbed inside the ruin of the church where I played as a child, and I showed you the altar where the vows are made. And we walked around the back to the deep field rich with summer grass and wildflowers, and at the contract stone, the wishing stone, where the marriage is blessed, we made a promise.

You showed me your home; you brought me swimming in the river. There was no salt to buoy me; you held me up. There were dragonflies.

But we would say goodbye, we would let this go, and so I came one day to work submerged in sadness, and served customers tenderly; slowly, sadly, softly. And a solemn little boy made his way to the counter by himself and gave me a flower.

I promised to open myself back to the world; to trust whatever it may bring; to let go. 

That morning, I found a goldfinch feather.

That evening, you asked if we could keep this.

I was afraid. Of losing my way, of losing my breath. Early morning, we walked into the water and disappeared; we put our bodies in the hands of the ocean. I was not afraid, after all.

Voices surrendered, we passed mute alongside the swaying weeds weighted with wiggling anemones; we floated amidst the pulsing, glowing jellyfish. Hands, body, submerged in bright seaweed; we came to our senses: touch and sight.

And all of the life here carried on regardless of us because we, too, moved with the softened rhythms of the water. Calm and fluid movements; bizarrely shaped beings. Forests of kelp rose up out of nowhere; the richness was baffling. We were breathing underwater, under a spell; overwhelmed, disoriented, vulnerable. 



Touching finger and thumb together; more, much more than okay. Lost in this green otherworld, surrounded by magic, we trusted, like children exploring, wriggling, weightless, wide-eyed. Reaching hands out, feeling, seeing, breathing; breathing out bubbles. Deafened by water, by breath. Serene in surrender; awed. 

Magnificent and shining in this full tide, the dishevelled shore was transformed in its own element. A world of color, of deep, bright, soft abundance. And we were not the same.

You swam beside me underwater and held my hand in both of yours.

And above us the light played upon the thin sheet between worlds.

I dipped my hand in and out of sky like I would dip my hand in and out of sea. 

And surfacing was like waking then. The real world felt strange; dimmed, heavy, silent; like a dream. 

Breathless, I thought, all my life I have known this shore, but I have never known this.

And so we gathered with the swallows and left, and you flew south, and I flew north. And now, on different edges of the equinox, we pass the sun between us. I press my footprints into sand to feel your heartbeat. 

I have known love that was sunshine. I have known love that was a warm blanket shared.

This love, my love, is the sea. ◆

This piece is excerpted from the Spring 2023 issue of Parabola, 
TRANSFORMATION. You can find the full issue on our online store.