Mermaid


1.


First time I saw you, I was at the wheel

of a powerboat, bone-rattle slamming

over the roiling waves. I was decked out

in rubber suit, goggles, breathing

apparatus. The full man-of-action kit.

I was pumped up, ready to dive, emerge,

scramble over rocks, haul myself

through crevices and up gradients,

basically the whole Milk Tray scenario.


You appraised me from a promontory

by the lighthouse, tail scooping

a dull slop of sea water to fling

in my wake. Your way of saying, accurately

it turned out, that you didn’t rate my chances.


2.


Months later. Me with my tourist funk on

at the aquarium. I could have been there

for any reason: surveillance, covert ops,

bunking off the convention for an hour,

tired of the other telemarketers

and their talk of talk and targets. I could

have been up to anything: brouhaha,

shenanigans, shits and giggles.

The glossy colour brochure was merely a prop.


I thought I saw you reflected in curved glass

reflecting off other glass where lights

and distortion and people reflected

from other parts of the aquarium made it hard

to be sure. I looked again and you were gone.


3.


I stood where I might have said that surf

creamed the edges but I think

that would be ripping off Plath. So let’s just say

I stood at some coastal outreach reading aloud

Robert Lowell’s sequence about the mermaid,

my shot at conjuration. Ineffective

as it transpired. I slid the book back in my rucksack,

not that sliding and the 1186 pages

of Lowell’s Collected may be said to accord.


I heard it as I turned to go, your voice

borne on the salt spray of the sea,

yearning for something more picturesque,

the waters off beautiful blue Nauset.

I should have stuck with Plath after all.


4.


Now I’m writing poems, letters, transcribing

scraps of diary entries onto the back

of admiralty charts torn into small squares.

I’m thinking of straits, capes, bays,

shipping lanes. How should I send them,

these envelopes I’ve addressed to

Sirène, La Mer ... Meerjungfrau, das Meer

(to use the English would be prosaic):

should I entrust them to some old sea dog


on a container ship, politely request

of a cruise-liner steward their kind assistance?

Or take myself down to the shoreline, stand

where the surf creams the edges

and let the wind hasten them to the waves.


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