Merlife

Sarah Elizabeth Gordon

No one has time for an old merdame,

it’s only the maidens they want

with their pastel hair like Easter morning,

shiny scales and taut torsos.

I too sang for sailors once,

flipped my turquoise tail, now greyed,

to splash their deck when I dived.

Mermaids are dreams to tantalize humans;

mercrones reminders that time passes,

that life is never happily-ever-after.

I am the truth of mermaid illusion,

scales like alligator worn thin,

belly like jellyfish, flaccid and wobbly

as I comb my white hair

and creak out a song while hidden among mangroves.

 

Florida City cheap hotel decades gone,

rickety house unguarded

by drunk manager passed out in foyer,

unscreened windows wide open.

I fell asleep in a sailor’s arms as he read to me

The Song of Songs Which Is Solomon’s from the Gideon Bible.

The next day a squirrel attacked us,

climbed me like a tree to steal my peanut butter.

If she had asked, I would’ve given it to her--

I never liked that human concoction--

but she assumed all mermaids are mean girls,

divas who will not share.

 

Nobody gets it for free, they say,

and mermaids demonstrate that truth by leading ships to rocks

(or rocks to ships).

But wrecks provide little treasure now:

no Russian caviar, no Roman garum,

just containers full of running shoes, leggings, skateboards.

A golden voice only gets you so far.

 

Sailors, always sailors.

I grew tired of disheveled beards and calloused hands,

of diesel fuel stench.

And never any talk of Shakespeare--

shouldn’t they at least know The Tempest?--

no mention of modern art or even Monet’s ocean paintings;

only boring talk of tides and storms

as if I didn’t literally live and breathe those every day.

Their only other conversation was sweet talk,

if you could call it that,

all based on landborne treats I’ve never tried, or if I did,

hated.

 

Like any other merbabies, my daughters’ fathers are unknown--

some seaman’s semen, of course, no more than that

came from outside me. And my grandbabies, too,

their faces the same as mine, my mother’s, and all my daughters’,

their tails a bouquet of colors.

Mermaid genes are strong.

 

Merbabies and mergirls are extraordinary creatures,

enough to take your breath away,

happy imps who shine like stars and look fragile as spume on whitecaps.

Their time of frolicking innocence is short

before they subside to seductress stereotypes.

I, old Pearlie Belle, hide among the mandrake roots not from humans

but to elude my granddaughters’ eyes.

Before they grow to maidens,

I will not disillusion them in their few happy years.

Sarah Elizabeth Gordon has been creating poetry since before she could write, making up verses to the rhythm of her rocking horse. Her poetry melds science with fantasy and the personal with the universal.

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