Judith McCombs

Chief M'Comie Mor and the Kelpies                              


Kelpies are the shape-shifting water spirits of Scotland's rivers. They take the forms of   beautiful horses and hairy, water-weedy humans. Kelpies lure people out to drown them.

Glenshee, Perthshire, 1640s


There came a wailing at the door

That night of roaring wind.

O save my man, M'Comie Mor!

M'Comie, let me in.


The flood has swept my good man down,

Shee River runs so high.

There's none but you can save him now,

O help or he will die.


Shee Water leaps like a wild, wild steed

There's none but you can tame.

O leave your sleep and come with me

If M'Comie be your name.


The stars were dim, the moon was banned,

He probed the shifting mud

And waded out, his staff in hand,

To brave that raging flood.


A cry he heard, then saw a face

Rise like a thing half-drowned.

The Chief stood braced to pull it safe—

But it reared to stamp him down.


It was no man, but a kelpie-steed

Who carries off mere men.

He hurled his staff at the creature's head

As the kelpie dove again.


Then the kelpie's wife struck M'Comie's side

With her flailing water-weeds—

He swung and fled, then saw her dive

Far off with her white-maned steed.

Judith McCombs is the author of The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New (WordWorks, 2005), her fifth book.  Her poems appear in Calyx, Measure, Poet Lore, Poetry, Potomac Review (Poetry Award), Prairie Schooner, Beltway, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Levure littếraire, Nimrod (Neruda Award), and Shenandoah (2012 Graybeal-Gowen Award). She has held NEH and Canadian Senior Fellowships, and in 2009 won Maryland State Arts Council's highest Individual Artist Award for Poetry. She arranges a poetry series at Kensington Row Bookshop in Kensington, MD.



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