The Islands and the Sea

Ed O’Casey 

The albatross reaches sexual maturity slowly. During its adolescence, it comingles with
many potential partners until the field finally narrows to one. The two will join in what
appears to be beak-to-beak combat: a bizarre mating ritual. Most of this ritual is never
repeated, but it culminates in a unique language that the two share. They use neither
these calls nor this body language to communicate with any albatross other than their

We understand each other. I know
what fine means, and where I need to follow you
when you fail
to tell me how your day went. I remember when,

four years ago, we would caress
when we said goodbye for more than a day.
This morning, finishing my third beer,

I’m afraid that if we were to try that again,
we’d break
each other’s noses.

Squid beaks are the one part of the animal that the albatross cannot properly digest.
Analysis of these beaks shows that many of these squid are too large to have been caught
while still alive. Many of these species live beyond the reach of the albatross. And while
some albatross have been known to dive as deep as 12.5 meters, they must have, at times,
scavenged dead squid from beaches.

For the week before she was born,
every piece of food I touched
sprouted mold. Between waking
and work, the fridge would be thickly carpeted.
I found myself more than once,
face-down in your scraps,
chewing bone, gristle, and onion skins.

I lost nine pounds
and the confidence to rub my eyes
or chew at my fingernails.

That day,
you squeezed my hand
so tightly I thought it would rupture
in a cloud of spores.

The albatross feeds its young mouthfuls of plastic bags and garbage; it frequently
mistakes these toxic articles for vast swarms of squid that float near the surface of the
world’s oceans to mate. Young albatrosses rarely survive long. You can see their remains
on beaches. Their ribcages resemble prisons for litter.

I went into the pantry,
grabbed a handful of old grocery sacks, stood
over our daughter’s crib, and waited for her
to cry out
in hunger.

Superstitious sailors often believe it disastrous to harm an albatross. But the reality is
that they regularly kill and eat these birds, even though some of them believe the birds to
be the souls of lost sailors.

Our albums have been reduced to cinders,
brittle, that crumble with any pressure.
I woke from the dream and started
turning pages. Under my right hand,
the reminder of a trip to the coast;
under my left, stillness,
sleeves of ash.
Ed O’Casey received his MA from the University of North Texas. He loves all things narcissistic, and lives with an unruly ferret, a rabbit, and his wife. His poems have appeared or are upcoming in Cold Mountain Review, Tulane Review, Oak Bend Review, Euphony, Mayo Review, Poetry Quarterly, NANO Fiction, and Wilderness House Literary Review. He is currently working on his MFA at New Mexico State University.