It’s Not Easy to Be With the Pelicans

Pelican flying over water

Photo credit: Matt Briney on Unsplash

by Judith Skillman —

They circle and dive all morning and far
into afternoon. Their hunger goes on
beyond what I expect. They bomb turquoise
water, settle on the surface, pause
with the fish in the long blade of beak,
shake water into water, lean the head back,
and swallow. It drives me to the core
of ambition, and farther into the belly
of the whale, where Jonah prays to God
in his affliction. What other symbol
fits the body like a key?

The pelicans come back and back
as I return to this place where I sicken,
remember her birthing,
me lying in a pool of blood like a fish out of water.
Did I think then, placenta shorn from its wall,
of her oxygen deprivation? One evening
the red snapper lay with its white eye
staring me down. Could I dig deep
to find the little death required,
and would I be sated, which is to say, redeemed?

It is not easy to be with the pelicans—
to watch dread, to fathom a darkness
brought on by no ordinary storm
on the night of a super moon.

Tides rise to the extent of resistance
and I am drowning again, strapped to a gurney,
put under by oxygen deprivation. Then
she’s taken by caesarean from the place
where once we were beautiful together,
all of a piece, held by maternal laws.
It’s not easy, my sisters, to be violated
by the pull of moon and pelican
and tide and men.

Judith Skillman’s recent book is Came Home to Winter, Deerbrook Editions. She is the recipient of grants from Artist Trust & Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Cimarron Review, Zyzzyva, Nasty Women Poets and elsewhere. Visit her at and on Facebook. For books see