Posted by: John Looker | 25 November, 2020

Conversation with a Sea Lion

Hey, how you doing? Don’t worry 
I’ll sit over here – like you, where the sand is dry. 
I’ll help you watch the tide. 

I’m good thanks. Yes, 
I like to come by after work when I can. I guess 
I’m putting off getting back home. 
You’ve a nice place here, with the dunes 
and the stream from the hills behind. 

No, I haven’t forgotten the sea. 
Nor the rip that carries you out at your ease …
I’ve noticed you always swim on your own 
and withdraw up here to shelter alone in the lap of the cliffs.  

I do have the family, true, and love them with all my heart  
but sometimes here on the shore 
watching the ocean stirring and arching its back 
and the clouds pacing the sky 
I begin to sense a thread of kinship with you. 
This sound absurd? 

It’s more to do with the sense of being, underneath it all, alone. 
Beneath the bustle of work and the ceaseless interaction of family life 
there’s a certain stillness, 
there’s a layer of deep undisturbable quiet: 
a solitude like your own. 

Or perhaps it’s a feeling … pervasive, imprecise … 
of being at one with the elemental world:
air and water; or atoms … then the timeless aeons … 

But you’ve lowered your head to the slope of the sand 
and look as though you’ll doze; perhaps I’ll do the same. 
We can lie beached like waka 
and listen to the riddles of the sea;
there is no hurry to go. 

©John Looker 2020

This was Highly Commended in New Zealand’s Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2020. For all the winning poems, please go to:


The actor Peter Hayden reading ‘Conversation with a sea lion’, Dunedin university bookshop, Nov 2020.


  1. This is stunning, John!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely love this, John. What a scene you paint!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congrats on the highly commended and the reading thereof, John. I’m always amazed how a poet – such as yourself – manages to evoke such strong feelings via the most “prosaic” of things such as a sea lion. Marvellous!


    • That’s very good of you Bruce, thank you – I can say the same about your writing. Keep it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Familiar ground, Johnno, stripped back.


    • Thanks Pete – good to hear from you!


  5. Blown away by this. A silent interaction that anyone can tune into without ever having imagined themselves in such a scene. The language makes the backdrop to the introspection so vivid that you can smell the sea. I love this poem, but I find I can’t express how it reaches me. Anyway, thank you.


    • That is extremely kind of you Hilary. Thank you.


      • John, what is (a) waka? I shared your poem with a friend and she looked the word up and found the following: Waka (poetry), a genre of Japanese poetry. WAKA (TV), a television station licensed to Selma, Alabama, US. Waka music, a musical genre from Yorubaland of Nigeria. Waga sculpture or waka, a type of Ethiopian memorial statue. – none of these quite made sense to her in the context. I simply thought of other sea creatures or driftwood, but I like the idea of Ethiopian Memorial statues.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just looked up New Zealand plus waka and got it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m impressed at your research Hilary! And thank you for sharing the poem with a friend – I can’t think of any greater compliment. 😊
        Any New Zealander of course would know that waka are canoes, a Māori and South Pacific word, but I’ve learnt that some historical waka should more fairly be described as small ships. Two could be lashed together with a platform between, given two impressive masts, and then used to transport a hundred men, women, children, their goods and animals in migration across the Pacific. However, in my poem I was obviously thinking of canoe-length waka.
        Thank you again!


  6. Congratulations John, and what a magnificent poem!


  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this, John. Congratulations!


  8. A magic poem, John. The meditation about the elemental world is central to a swath of your poetry, and I like how you address this poem so directly to the sea lion. There is a lot of truth here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks Tom. It was evidently a wise philosophical sea lion!


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