The Undersea World of MacOdrum of Uist


It is given to ((the seal-
tribe of MacOdrum)) that their
sea-longing shall be land-longing
and their land-longing shall
be sea-longing.

— South Uist farmer
in Fiona McLeod’s Iona


Rich and deep are the fields I till
in the bluest lands of Manann
far beneath the wave.

Lucent and strange the gems
I glean from abyssal harvest
that I silo in these poems,
still dripping with cold water,
my eyes peering like faucets

Incessant and wild
are the horses I ride
between the wind and the wave,
their terrible manes
flecked with seafoam,
their hooves pounding
in the thunder of the surf-mill.

Soft and low the merry
banter of whale flukes,
thickly fanning currents
of dark and darker flow,
each beast a blue god’s mount
travailing deep and deeper
between salt Alps, into the trench
that split the worlds apart.

Down there where
angels fear to tread
you’ll find the oldest
abbey of them all in full
defiant raucous matins,
every lost and tossed god
singing plainsongs of the sea

until the last priest
in Ireland drops Manannan’s
chalice from his dead hands,
commending that silver
bowl stolen from Gundestrup
back to the old Celtic marge.

Pile that chalice here
in the sea’s treasure room,
a hoard daunting
and rich beyond measure,
its rubies and emeralds
on fire under all, the
heaps of gold coins
and pearl booty enough
to brim a dragon’s eyes
with blood and brine tears—

three drops of that
perilous wine fell
into the chalice
and wait for your lips,
delivering in one kiss
a flood for every beach
and harbor, reclaiming
kin and kine for the
fields of the Lord
beneath the wild wave.

Lift your ear from
the keel-boards
lest your hear me all too well.
If you catch my drift
your boat will vanish,
replaced by a blue
diving saddle
that will pilot you
straight down to the
abysm of your own
flooded heart now
lost to history.

My fins and gills
seem all the dearer
staring back in the mirror
of your face hanging
over the still waters
at the end of this poem.

Look too deep and roam
forever with I, MacOdrum,
totem father, alternate
ending to your dry days.

Peer and dream this dive
to grab the bluest crown.
Exult with me in all
that remains to be found
in falling so far down.




You could call this the completion of my response to d’Verse Poets’ “Prose to Poetry” challenge, turning Ahab’s soliloquy to the dead whale’s head in “Moby-Dick” upside down and backwards into the song of something drunk on spermaceti gold.


Filed under Art and Heart, Consciousness, Creativity, Death, Devotions, Mind, Myth and Archetype, Oran, Otherworlds, poetics, Post-Christianity, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Dark, the library down under, The Sea, Voyagers, Water-Folk

5 responses to “The Undersea World of MacOdrum of Uist

  1. Your eyes peering like faucets is terrific. How is it possible to keep finding new language for this song, this dive? Yet you do keep finding new words and visions on the walls of your well. And a new voice, from that giant fish’s head, the scryer speaks. What he has seen and heard, he filters through his gills, and you in turn ride the tales in your own rhythm. A great new (?) character in your fields of blue. Keep the faucets weeping, and the blue ink flowing!

    • Brendan

      Well like Melville said, one needs sea-roads to tell a decent tale, and sea-depths provide a brimming cup of “evidence.” Thanks for reading …

  2. hedgewitch

    It’s always amazing to me to see the rich harvest you get from your fertile imagination of the depths of the bottomless, or worse yet, bottomed by the primal and terrible, sea, which terrifies me to even think about. When I got to the passage about the blue diving saddle i was looking for some sargasso or kelpie hair to bind myself to the mast. Ruth calls out the harking back to the whale’s head, surely a most dark and potent totem of the abyss, but the horses–nice, non-carnivorous, warm-blooded creatures–that race in the surf-mill are as far in as I’d ever want to go, personally. I’m glad to read about the rest in this psalter, though, any time.

    • Brendan

      Thanks H – I’m not sure the science had been established by then, but sperm whales are notorious deep-sea divers, descending 20,000 leagues where they hunt giant squid. They know the bottom-depths, and Ahab imagined that as such. I dunno if this was what Melville meant when he said that his great ambition was to plumb the darkness of the human heart (he didn’t truck in Emersonian transcendentalism that stuck to the surface, with the waves), but if he didn’t have the science, he did have the intuition to see that wayyyyyyy down there are the black truths. I don’t think they’re melancholy, necessarily, but they are dark. Dark is not evil to me (like Wendell Berry once said, “even darkness blooms and sings.”) Black Angus was a man-seal who roundly cursed St. Columba “in fine gaelic,” one of the seal-tribe of MacOdrum; for all their pagan, extra-Christian presence, Columba does hear them sing from the rocks at night, “We, too, are sons and daughters of God.” I was terrified of drowning in the sea after watching Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” – imagine falling miles of dark and darker water — yet somehow that for me has grown into the image of the unconscious, a place of the most pregnant possibility. Bran saw only abyss, but to Manannan the undersea was fields of golden wheat. – Brendan

  3. The stanza about the three drops of wine is breathtaking. The entire piece engulfs you. Just glorious writing.

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