The Mermaid Sees the World
for the first time, when she was thirteen
years old. For years, she waited her turn.
Her older sisters visited first, taught her
everything they knew. They said that men
swam on land, using two long limbs
to balance upon. They built castles
from compressed sand and rock. They wrapped
soft scales around their bodies, in colors
that were brighter than any fish in the sea.
They never sang. Instead, they gurgled
and chattered like dolphins. To the sisters,
they were strange. To the youngest mermaid,
they sounded beautiful, more beautiful
than the coral and seaweed she circled
every day. On her thirteenth birthday,
the mermaid breaks the glass surface
of the sea and finds a gray swath
of sky, the same color as the ocean.
She sees water pour from the sky in columns,
blue light streaking and landing
on a wooden vessel beside her. Orange
tongues lick the structure clean. Men
scream and fall in to the water. They bob
and sink, backs curled like turtles.
She waits for them to move and kick,
dive and rise like she would. They only
float. She finds the nearest man
and swims below him. His mouth
open, eyes closed. She has seen
that look before, on old fish that float
to the surface. She rolls the man
on to his back, hears him sputter
and cough. The mermaid and the man
link eyes as she guides him towards the shore.
She sees in him the whole world
she is missing and yet, she pushes him away.
The Mermaid Loses Her Voice
Yes, was the last word she said. Seconds later,
the witch removed her tongue. This was before
she braved the witch’s dark garden, seaweed
winding around her arms. Still before she defied
her family, abandoned their crowded sandbar.
Before her months of mourning, before
her salt tears poured in to the salt sea.
Before she knew that loss and love were both
as boundless and empty as the black sea. Before
she saved her first love, pushed
his limp body toward the surface, toward the air
he could breathe. Before his ship opened
like a hungry mouth and devoured everyone
aboard. Before she saw his unconscious,
beautiful face. Before she learned
that mermaids had no souls, no hope of eternal life.
Before she knew she was trapped.
Before all this, she was just a girl
with a lovely voice and a limited life.
So, she said, yes, and watched the witch slice
her tongue from her mouth with the silver knife,
watched her tongue, that slippery fish, swim
through clouds of blood and plankton, then plop
in the burbling black potion. Yes, she had said
then mawed the water and tried to find her way home.
The Mermaid Learns to Walk
The sand around her refracts and shines
like glass. She focuses on each glittering
grain, each new salty breath she takes,
so that she doesn’t feel her green
fin split into two milky white props.
She marvels at the way her scales,
flake off to reveal such a smooth
surface. She is naked and awake. Her hair
tangles around her body like seaweed,
binding her to the sandbar. He takes
her hand without asking and she smiles
a tongueless, toothy smile. It is true
that every step pierces the bottoms
of her brand new feet, each grain
grinds into her skin. Yet, she remains
both silent and lovely. She simply smiles
and breathes, wonders at her new world,
leaving a trail of dark red footprints in her wake.
The Mermaid Ascends
her lover and his bride,
makes her choice. The knife
is heavy in her palm.
She kisses his forehead, sees
that he does not wake.
The mermaid flings
the knife into the water.
The seas seethe
like blood. There is only
one thing left for her to do.
She takes one last leap
on her borrowed legs,
one last breath
with her new lungs.
The air tastes salty,
even without her tongue.
She never feels
she is aloft
and the next she is crushed
by walls of blue. Water
floods her nostrils, fills
her mouth, fills
her lungs. She is not scared,
just curious as she feels
every molecule dissolve
into foam. But then,
just as she finally lets go
of her sinking body,
hands encircle her, fish her
out of the waves. She rises
out of her father's kingdom,
above her lover's ship, above
the crowded city. She feels
sun on her permeable skin
as she floats weightless
to her next home.
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