“Conversation is a 12-minute work for soprano and chamber ensemble, based on the sounds of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) in haul-out. Schönmaier’s poem explores what Doolittle describes as a ‘slightly uncanny sympathy between humans and grey seals’.”
Are my thoughts so noisy they murmur
outside my body?—keening like distant
voices, like wind through buoys.
Each moment carries its own frame.
On the shoals I count fifty seals,
their grey pod-bodies entwined.
Is it their thoughts or mine
that I hear?—a longing
so ardent and spacious. The past
and its regret talks
back to me: panting, insistent, it holds
my hand. I eavesdrop in the lapse
between one wake-up call and the next.
What language emanates from the seals
as they pleasure in the sun? A vibration
shuddered in the air that lures
me back to or away from myself,
a conversation fetched home.
From Treading Fast Rivers (McGill-Queen’s University Press)