• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 08

The Beginning Of Our End


After Ada Limón


More than a fourth world war breaking out,
more than forests melting to ash and grey sludge,
whole cities to graves of wires and iron, houses
to scorch marks on stone, it’s their wrinkling skin
that got me. When they had blown the sky asunder
and the sun’s full warmth came at them like knives,
they knocked twice, the third time, sent down tears
in glass tubes and our king unlocked the surface
of the sea. First came their young, wide eyed, hungry,
skin stitch-thin, thinning in our world, then their old,
frail, wiser now, regretful of the horror they fostered
in their world, then their sick, in shock, shattered
by it all, reaching for bubbles as though they were
pearls. Fine then, we’ll take them, the ocean seemed
to say, if they can learn our ways, we will take them all.

1

Neutral Ground

I went down to Saint James infirmary
they had turned it into a planetarium
she was there in the firmament
a constellation to be named at a date
later when we too were dead

what is the use of naming the chaos
scorpion phoenix sea monster lyre crab

swim toward an attempt at understanding
as if stage four meant more understanding

advancing

the cava spilled backward

these words another jar

suspended

above the neutral ground
we saw her together

scaling up scaling down from
the stars

2

Siren Song

I am known the length and breadth of the seven seas for my beauty. If you listen for the Song that carries endlessly on the waves, you will hear them sing of my eyes that gleam like the bioluminescent tide, my hair that waves like seaweed fronds, the mother-of-pearl sheen of my scales. Like so many great beauties of the ages, my life has been charmed, perhaps unfairly so. But I will take whatever accolades accrue to me, why not? Beauty is its own virtue. If others are kinder, wiser, more cautious, then let them sing of that.

My allure is that of the old sirens, the ones in the tales the sea witch tells me, goddesses long vanished from the waters of our world. In her barnacled voice, she tells me how no living creature could resist the siren's song, neither our kind, nor those who float upon the sea instead of in it. Peering from behind my rock, I can see the kind of men she spoke of – strange, weak looking things, tottering on land on their awkward stumps. Like the maker dreamed of us, but did not have time to finish her creation properly!

Theirs must be a damned life, with no knowledge of the enchantment of the depths, the way a shaft of sunlight looks a hundred fathoms down. The grace of the Song as it travels through the currents. They do not even know they have been denied paradise.

I should not be so far from that paradise, the hadal trenches where we make our home, especially not alone. It was the sea witch, with her tall tales and her sly insinuations, that made me venture so far. But now that I am here, I find that I am curious. What harm could it do, to take my chance, perhaps my only chance, to observe these poor creatures who live in the kingdom above ours?

With a flick of my tail, and the faintest of splashes, I swim a little closer.

3

The Mermaid

I slept with you last night
You came to me in the spaces between threads
Walking on shadow trees, 
I caught a glimpse of an ancient forgotten horror
Your lure a sickly hymn beckoning my being
Your form, wretched and unholy
Now you live, parasitic, with all the other unspeakable secrets

4

Storm-breaker

My friends have gone missing again.
Some disappeared into the night
without even taking their phones,
coats, bags, or goodbyes.
Sometimes it is easier that way,
if not for the best.

Some hang around, knock on my glass
and tell me of their woes;
they let the agony of their years
drip out onto me as water torture.
I cannot even wipe my brow
to clear myself of their sweat.

I welcome their waves of torment,
I once was a mermaid, but now
am a flood barrier praying for a drought.

5

Mud-Eye Breathless

A mermaid,
 one of all that belongs to fantasies.
I did not understand him, I followed
and there, walls, higher than the castle, in a dark grey shade
he stopped,
leaning his head around the corner
of the gate
speaking – hush, mm, erm...
All that was uttered

He pulled at my arm and I saw a woman, sitting
in a cubicle, with curtains in maroon, framing her head.
People bowed silently as we passed,
I watched him, his gaze straight ahead
He smiled –
The walls were closer, I gripped harder
my nails in his skin

Led to a door,
small door
out of wood, dark, like chocolate cream
forgotten
He let me pass through first
“Ahead, ahead, follow the fairy lights”
It was a museum, with walls hollow,
dusty shelves and all lights were out
except for this…

This room, the fairy lights continued 
down, to the floor
from the ceiling
There, not bigger than my foot stood a glass
Read more >

6

The Mermaid

“Come see the mermaid.” The loud, booming male voice made its way across the fair ground, drawing in a crowd.

“Can we go, Mum, can we?” Olivia pleaded, pulling me in the direction of the closed tent.

“Come see the mermaid. Come see the demon of the sea,” the man shouted again.

“Please, Mum,” Olivia said.

“Okay,” I said, giving in to her whining, letting her lead me to the back of the queue.

“I wonder what she’ll look like? Do you think she’ll be like Ariel?” Olivia asked, peering up at me with her big blue eyes.

“I don’t know honey. We’ll have to wait and see.”

“I bet she will. She’ll sing and have a beautiful voice, and I can tell everyone at school tomorrow,” Olivia continued.

She was so excited and the last thing I wanted to do was take that away from her. That would come later. Today was for making memories.

I took in a deep breath as I remembered why we’d come to the fair. My test results arrived yesterday and it was the news John and I had feared. The cancer had spread. Six months at the most they said. Everything went dark in that moment and all I could think of was Olivia growing up without me. I promised myself that I would use the time left to build memories with her and do as much as we could while I was still well. Cancer was eating away at my body. Piece by piece I would deteriorate.

Read more >
7

Home: Cathode

Those courageous, indomitable and valiant men who set their lives to the course of the sea had little regard for the dictates of chance. Their bodies have grown old, decayed and withered away. Yet their spirits haunt the old sea with their unceasing persistence in knowing the myths and legends of the ancients. They could never find me. How would they? For I exist!

They call me the mermaid because I hardly resemble one. My bottom is of a fish and my top is as heavy as an ape. I am no creature of God; neither was I made by mere men. I am a daughter of the ocean whose depths no mortal can explore.

I do not advise you to heed my words; the consequences will hardly be of any worth. But if you should listen to my voice, you shall only hear me scream. Not in pain, sorrow or any agony. No! I do not feel sorrow! I do not know happiness! I just exist, you see.

Do not be deceived by the clever expressions on my face. I am not deceptive like those human beings. I desire to swim and hide from the sunlight whose very immensity hurts my tender eyes.

My friends wait for me down below. The whales hum, the dolphins sing but I am closer to the octopuses who poison, sting and hide from the great despisers of their bodies! They will save me from this space. They have promised to keep me from this place.

And then arrived the fateful day when the man who came from an island finally caught a glimpse of me. I stared into his eyes as he did mine. What a tragic time to know what it means to be alive!

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8

Envy

“That is mine. Wait!
Let me look at all the old mines,
For a bit of eternity,
And die,
Afraid of jumps.
Always coveting the second best,
If only I could at least choose what to covet!

My lavish corpse is but a fading ornament
So why the need to escape this shallow transparency?

Kleptomaniacs read greedily, just a little too much,
Building walls inside old walls,
Making ourselves infertile to sow all but one seed,
That grows novelty.
Writing a book,
Is knocked off of the wish list,
For no new truth shall be found,
Just alchemy of what is already known.

One who does not read much,
Paints worlds no taste buds can ever grasp,
That shall plunder existence after a century
Not knowing what one owns,
Never knowing it is truly his or hers to keep...

So many realities my eyes shall never claim!

They must be Immortals
Or they are seriously good
At suppressing dreams…”
Screamed, the thief.

9

How Mermaids Are Born

Mohua was back at the beach, the wind whipping her eyes open. The Baby moved, the moon rose. The skin of her belly awash in a patina of runny silver, Mohua walked into the sea, but where was the sea? She tested the sand with her left foot. It was dry and warm, like freshly crumbed ruti. The land was vast and flat, slightly bent. An upturned griddle on the flames of hell. Silent as it slowly burned.

Mohua took her first step. Zhuu! The water in her womb pitched. Zhuu, zhuu, zhuu! With every step rose a surging hiss that rolled around the cosmos: hushed screams of absent waves that followed her unseen.

"Don’t give her away, don’t give her away!"

She raised her hands to cover her ears, but she had no hands. No face either. What was left of Mohua looked down at what was left of her, but there was no her anymore. She was the sea now, the earth and the wind.

And the moon, where was it now? It had carved itself into a barge that floated on the music of the universe. Calling out to the sea, mocking it, keeping just out of reach.

Sometimes the Baby spoke to her, "Don’t be afraid, Mother! I love you!"

It made Mohua sad. "And I love you too, my Moyna, I love you too!"

The waves protested her betrayal, but zhuu, zhuu, she walked on.

At last, on the eve of Sohrai, she stood under the hull of the moon. The voices in her head whispered, "Sow your baby here."

10

Collectibles

In this room, you may see the fruits
of a thousand hours of labor
tirelessly scouring eBay and garage sales
for the best of what other people no longer want.

It’s amazing what people throw away,
not knowing the value of what they possess;
here, a piece of gum chewed by Mickey Mantle,
there, a box of petrified breakfast cereal
from 1979, pristine, unopened, inedible.

Beside that, a fragment of the true Cross—
the dealer had no papers, but I believe
the provenance to be accurate—
and that? I believe it’s a unicorn’s horn.

On those shelves, my collection of rare
butterflies, displayed in bell jars—and that?
Oh, that’s just an oddity, thrown in with
other, better items, taken in trade.

The taxidermist did a decent job,
affixing the shaved upper body of a rat
to the hind end of a trout; the head’s
likely that of a porcelain doll—

distressed to look older than it is.
Yes, the eyes almost seem to follow you
around the room—dolls’ eyes do that,
you know; I’ve never liked them for that.

Read more >
11

Hell is Human Handed

You found me marooned
on the foreshore of a Shetland beach.
You thought you could harvest me,
transform me into your own creature,
bind me to your life on land
and bid me birth your children.

You thought my beauty would not fade
and your kinsmen would envy you
as they stared at my cape of blond hair
my thick-lashed eyes, my salty mouth
and my oiled scales of turquoise blue.
You sought no consent from me
and I learnt no mercy would come from you.

Too soon my desiccation began,
accelerated by each voiding, vicious birth.
I shrank with fear, dimmed and became ugly
screaming, 'Please, let me free.' But,
your cruel grimace said you had plans for me.
You never would release me to the sea.

One night you murdered me, your merslave wife,
bathed my piscine body in formaldehyde
and encased me in a glass glitter-dome.
You sought to entertain your dinner guests
and watch amused when gentle ladies fainted,
seeing my tormented twisted form.

Read more >
12

Fish Bowl

They fished him out
of a ravine at midnight,
washed in as far as he
could go.

What's your name,
they asked, but all he
could do was gurgle
softly. They gave him
sea water and kelp,
which pacified him
briefly.

These days he's all the
rage for school field
trips. Elderly folks
have their picture taken
with him.

It's enough to drive
him crazy, wanting to
correct them on his
real name, the origin
of his species.

If he hears a child
say one more time,
I didn't know mermaids
could be boys too,
he's
going to bust out
of here.

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13

Display Case

I was that
poor creature
trying to muss
her hair

Selling tickets
to my own
soul show

They made
pretty advertisements
about me

But then age
came
withering me

Change does
not occur
gracefully in
a glass case

Slowly
they stopped
coming to see me
like a screen queen
abandoned

Adoring public
that always
always
becomes fickle.

14

Lost Kingdom

Last survivor of the lost
Kingdom of sea-dom

Intended to marry
A merchant seaman but stuck

Here in this museum
Of life's greatest disappointments

Nothing to turn the days over
Like frying eggs except

Whispered secrets, the crackle
Of television in other rooms

I miss my programs most of all
Tiny stories of distraction.

15

Curiosity

Don't
look at me so closely
I know the world
is transparent around me
What should I cost
you? A buck fifty?
Don't bring me
pamphlets about how
to swim away
or offer government
assistance. I'm fine.
But really fine.
Don't tell me I don't
belong on earth.
Just go visit the
gift shop as you exit.

16

Thorns

All thorns
a marred beauty.

She used to swim
majestic.
I would woo her from
the bow of my ship.

Her name was Alice
and something a politician
would tweet at midnight
in her original language.

Today, in this little English
town, she's been oppressed
misshapen by her lot
her poor luck

But I've got a hammer
to stage a rescue.

17

A Pretty Good Trick

I must admit I tricked you
Cast enchantment over your foolish eyes
Showed you just one of my faces
Fed you the fantasy of the Maid
Made you believe the mask I wore
So that you would brag and boast of my beauty

My words, honey-tipped, dripped from my tongue
Becoming mead and you drank them in
Staggering under their weight
Falling to your knees to worship me
Your sea-born Goddess
The deceived and the deceiver

But I became careless
Let my mask slip, let you glimpse the Crone
The hag dried out, dried up
Shrivelled dugs, desiccated monster
Whilst I remained unaware
Mistook your fury for passion

I preened when you put me on a pedestal
Until you trapped me, wrapped me in glass
And you laughed as you cast me away
Powerless, pointless, pitiful,
For a human, I must admit
That was a pretty good trick

18

My Pain For Your Enjoyment

The scream was the woman;
A gibbering creature from beneath the warped waves
Of the Atlantic or was it the Indian?
Whatever waters sprung her bounds, her gills rejected her.
Her chipped, chewed-on nails pulled,
Pulled in feverish intensity at her glossy hair.
Her eyes shed tears, that her face seemed not to recognise,
Her lips in a grimace, that her pain filled eyes seemed not to understand.
She struggled through the throng;
A shuffle, a crawl in the faded light.
Mutterings and spittle fell from gnashing teeth
Like torn petals of decayed roses.
Mud-stained breast stared in depressed feeling
at the shadow shaped by the sun's last glimmer
Before the stars turn their twinkling gaze on night.
She gibbered, she tittered then she laughed.
She laughed hard, her loose stomach swinging merrily in reply.
She walked forward to the glass window and stopped.
She peered into the reflection and admired the red gown.
She patted her glossy hair, her grimace, her lazy breasts and flattened stomach.
She pirouetted, she twirled then she flew away
Into the gas lamp, lit for P.T. Barnum's encore.
What an applause! The audience, agog;
A mermaid that flew! What a feat!

19

My Other Half

‘Be all you can be,’ she said, as she brushed my long strands of auburn with her too delicate fingers. Her hands took their time to appreciate every single natural curl of my flowing hair, admiring the reflection of herself when she looked at me. I never knew she was — at that moment once more — imagining the girl that should have been sitting by my side, sharing my eyes, my tears.

Trembling fingers then touched my cheek and turned my face towards her. She made me meet her eyes. Two dark pools of experience surrounded by lines of wisdom and woe. ‘Never give up on your dreams.’ She made me promise. And I did. As I gazed lovingly down upon her and crossed my fingers behind my back, I did.

Little did she know what I dreamt of. Little did she know of the ravenous anger that haunted me at night, now more than ever ready to tear me down, transform me into a grief-struck monster, a hideous creature torn apart by envy and misunderstanding. I never knew, when I first saw those motherly eyes beaming down on my newly born form, that they saw two where there was only one. All I knew was that I was never good enough.

A desire to seek revenge on whatever it was that had taken her from me engulfed me. A focused hatred of the fast-multiplying cells of vileness, body-form evilness, undiagnosed for too long. But that was only half of the story. It was, however, the only half I knew. Even as the disease slowly spread and took her from me visibly, I had lost her gradually over the years. The fissure that had burst into being after I was born, a hairline fracture that grew as I did, had slowly torn her apart. The memory she never shared with me had weighed upon her so.

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20

At Watsons’s

Our mermaid is missing. Or haven’t you noticed her specimen jar
No longer adorns the St James’s Street Coffeehouse? There,
Where the crowds paid in shillings to gawp at her mummified torso,
An absence presides. An engraving reminds us how grimly – and also
How greyly – she looked, that familiar compound fish-woman,
With her simian phizog and scales the texture of salmon.
An amphibious Romeo, wags would suggest, would emerge from the Thames
To revive her one day; and together, they’d dive for subtropical climes...

The regulars here at the Turf could have told you, of course, some blithe things –
About how, in a fisherman’s net in Japan, she’d lain writhing,
Later to make her way west, via fairgrounds and legal disputes,
Through Batavia, London and Barnum’s benighted States.
About scientists, sea captains, “watery strife”1
And the tales a mortified mermaid would tell – if she could.


1 Thomas Hood

21

Mermaid

My song muffled beneath a glass dome.
Out of water a stuffed ornament.
I cannot tempt men anymore.
My voice entice men to shipwreck
on rocks of their own gullibility.

A warning beast constructed by men
half fish, half woman meant to deter.
Muted curiosity for exhibition to all
women and beasts as would speak
up for themselves to be accused of stridency,
irrelevancy, prattle and nonsense,

Whilst our enforced silence is considered
dumbness and linked to our looks. To you
we are slippery fish, or fishwomen capture
you in our nets to be beheaded and filleted.
Ever make a fantasy of another as a real
woman you cannot manage or control.

22

A Cup of Coffee

The café windows were frosted with the breath of commuters,
Surrounded by the damp smell rising from coats soaked with rain,
The hair of the umbrellaless plastered like seaweed to their faces,
A sea of people washed in on the after-work tide,
The office hermit crabs changing their shells at the end of the day,
No one was aware of her siren song,
Their ears closed, tight as oyster’s shells,
She sang of her dreams and hopes,
The longing for some handsome merman,
To carry her away from the humdrum, froth free, routine world,
She could not escape unaided,
One sip at a time, she savoured the lotus eaters’ sweetness of her drink,
Trying to forget that without the freedom to swim away,
To break the glass,
Her mermaid spirit might shrivel,
Another human fossil on the City seabed.

23

Fishbowl Freakshow

A school of fish travel quickly trying to find another suitable home
Their last reef had disappeared
Very suddenly danger reappears
Many sharks start to follow fast and ferociously
Suddenly, just when the jaws open, the mother is plucked out of the ocean by "humans"
What about the rest of the family?
So much is unknown
She is quickly plopped into a fishbowl
Alone and scared she starts to morph into something ugly and unbelievable
A spectacle for all to see
The "freakshow" has caught everyone's attention
After gasping at her appearance
Gossip runs rampant over espressos and lattes
More damage, more morphing
She can't breathe
Unable to come up for air
Paralysis has set in
There is a shimmer of light, a glimmer of hope
It shines above continually catching her eye
Mind and body have almost given out
Fight or flight
Hearts, minds, souls are at stake
Almost there
Almost there
That's their mantra
Read more >

24

ELEMENT: AIRY

You see, I’m not the beauty you fantasised about, you idiots who know nothing about the sea. But what did you expect?
You haul me out of my element in a net, just as I’m dreaming myself into being.
You drive me all the way to London along one of your ill-kept roads in one of your draughty smelly coaches and you expect my dugs not to shrivel and droop.
You stop for refreshment and a change of horses and you leave me stuck in my net on the floor, exposed to your putrid waste, and you expect my silken hair to stay on my head.
You couldn’t even be bothered to fill a barrel with seaweed for me to travel in, so interested were you in filling your own barrel-bellies with wine.
And now you stick me in a bell jar without a drop of salt water.
You’ve got me standing on my tail for ever and the bell jar’s on wheels, for goodness sake. How would you feel if your air was replaced with water and you had to stand on your knees for the rest of your life in a rocking chair? Without breathing?
See what I mean?
But you’re not listening. Clearly. You haven’t listened to me once.
I’m in a constant state of scream but you just sit there smoking your cigars and drinking your coffee and saying I’m not as beautiful as you’d imagined.
But see what my hand’s doing?
Between my left hand and my ear is a shell. My screams have been heard.
The ones who are coming are bringing water. There’s an unimaginable amount of it and it’s not for drinking.

25

Sea Horse

It was on the first day of our seaside holiday
that I found him
washed up,
stranded,
spat out by the sea
and swimming alone in the rock pool.
I had never seen a sea horse before,
only pictures in a book.
I used my shoe to fish him out
and ran back quickly,
one shoe on and one shoe off,
before the water leaked out.
I put him in the sink
and watched him swim.
He didn't seem quite right.
Or maybe it was the pictures that were wrong,
or my memory.
He couldn't stay in the sink.
My mother made that quite clear.
So I found him a jar in the cobwebby shed
and put him in that.
I fed him on bits
of bread,
minced meat
and mashed banana.
He spat them all out angrily.
I thought he would die from lack of food
and my mother said he couldn't come home with us.
Read more >

26

Please Turn Away

Once I was beautiful, young with voluptuous curves, long golden hair, pretty as a picture.
But I became conceited and arrogant
The God of the Mermaids picked me out and encased me so.
I was being punished and
my beauty was taken from me.
I became an old crone of the sea.
All creatures looked the other way.
I was ugly
I was hideous,
I wanted to hide.
I wanted to shut myself away from view,
I was an insult to all that mermaids stood for.
I was a disgrace.
I was captured and made an example of.
Never could I hide.
Never could I hide the shame.
Never could I hide my ugliness.
Please don't look at me.
Please turn away.

27

A Fish Out Of Water

It's more dreadful than drowning in air
than losing your treasured identity,
youth, beauty, health, mobility,
freedom to choose, to move.

I never chose to be an exhibit
In someone else's nightmare world.

I have all the allure of a shrunken dwarf,
the loss of esteem of a madwoman—
what was once an aquatic dream—
half human, half fish has morphed,
monster-like into a frankensteinian
experimental charade,
now I sit, trapped—
in a bell jar.

28

All the most beauteous things

the most fascinating
totally thrilling
utterly gobsmacking
unexpectedly wonderful
completely mysterious
things must be cramped under glass

So that they can
excite the viewer
repulse  disgust    titivate
mutter    worry    what is the world is coming to?
Discuss    dissect    examine    poke    prod
sample    frighten    arouse    forget

So that they can be    controlled    the idea
of such beasts running    free
such terror-strangelings ought to be
captured and    held
should learn to swallow freak show formaldehyde
be grateful that they are even kept

Should learn to be still for men’s eyes are not used
to women with teeth and fins
scales    tails    gills
to voices that can carry through the sea
Fit to be gawped    at    laughed    at
look at her    portioned off in her dome

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29

Gums

Shadows lengthen,
garish gums receding
over the discoloured
enamel of existence.

For this false female
has endured enough;
rotten roots entrenched
in maxilla and mandible
loosen on examination,
calcium crumbles
behind clean glass.

It’s only a matter of time
before tombstone teeth fall
like waves drawn out
from the deep.

30

Mermaid in Flight

Push against a current
that does not want you.
One last wiggle.
Dive to the depths of Loch Maree,
flick your scaly tail beyond the dark
to a bed as old as the Ice Age.
Inhale salt blown in from the sea.

Be blue, green, turquoise,
riff coral reef pink through your hair.
Chameleon to your core.
Sing soprano songs learned
before you were born
when fisher folk worshipped the idea of you
as they fed on trout and salmon.

Wish human life gone,
him too, you must relinquish,
led to death by your foretelling.
Seek pearls, new friends,
the otter and the diver.
Rest on the Isle at midnight,
make spells in its hermitage.

31

I REMEMBER YOU

a muted scream reverberates
in the bell jar where the mummified mermaid
clutches her head in what once was horror and pain
but now is the echo of agony

what am I doing here
how could this happen to me
where is the ocean
what are these prurient eyes trying to see

can the past be changed
can she redeem the time
or can she only look back in revulsion
at the fatality

I believe that the end of the story
creates the beginning
I believe that the past is not experienced
until it is remembered and understood
I believe that waking up from a dream
is the dream's consummation

I scream in the bell jar
clutching my disfigured face
and withering before the gaze
of the depraved multitude

32

The Pond Dweller’s Story

Limestone is a clock, its degradation
the slow tick recording ancient events.
Old stories. Ice age, flood and retraction.

Seashells crackled under geologic weight:
compacted into rock, bedded down
even as the great ocean retreated.

Far from the kiss-me-quick chatter of coasts,
rain scarred escarpments tell a history
of desertion in bluff tongues of limestone.

Those shells weren't the only ones left behind.

Other castaways stayed – my kind were such,
clinging grimly to growling rock pools.
If we'd sense we'd have gone with the ocean,

stayed with our multitude of mer-people.
Instead we remained loyal to small pools
turned our back on the blue and starry sea.

Adapting through the evaporation,
precipitation, desalination,
we learned to feast in floods, sleep in the mud.

Secure in our wish for isolation.

There are no seasons to the seven seas.
No drought or plenty. Unlike stagnant ponds.
Ponds are where running water goes to die.

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33

Ocean’s Abandon

Walking along grains of a resolute coast,
lined with every day she had feet,
trails of dreams follow, to where she'd be
complete.

Surf ruffles over corners inside,
asleep in a waking scene, lulling
images of swimming past
borders of the forbidden deep.

Edge of no return waves a finger
to summon, tomorrow she'd wake
once more, along shores where golden
shoulders rippled on sun-dappled waves.

Breaking halts through the slower
pace of clouded days, steps caught in
skimming gulls of twilight-dimmed eves,
and cries of unfilled ways.

Of tertiary attempts at passing
through saline caves, that grew
colder, and more pestilent than before.
She never knew why, or how.

The subtleties of darkness
were sneaky that way, she scarcely noticed
how her feet bleed, along sand gullies
of left behind days.

Read more >
34

Bettina

Bettina swam to the surface and sat on the deserted beach. Her once beautiful golden hair, now snowy white, laid on her shoulders, and her once beautiful face, burned in the hot sun. She stared at her mermaid fins, the only part of her body unchanged. She once had legs on land, but that was taken from her by a curse from another mermaid she once called a friend. Bettina’s beauty drove Destia into madness and she cursed Bettina with ugliness. The only way the curse would be broken was if a human showed her kindness. But for fifteen-years, no one on any of the occupied beaches showed her any compassion. They were frightened of her and didn’t see the beauty inside, until one day…

Bettina sat under a tree, flopping her fins in the sand. The sea was her only comfort where she didn’t have to see anyone. But every now and then a mermaid needed a break from the ocean. She hummed a tune her mother once taught her until her a voice startled her.

“Hi, there. I’ve never seen a mermaid before. Are you real or are those fins fake?" The girl pulled on Bettina’s fins.

“Hey, that hurts. Stop that.” Bettina pushed the girl’s hand away.

“Sorry. Wow, I can’t believe you’re real. Can I sit next to you? My name is Lily, I’m thirteen-years-old.”

“Yes, you may sit, but won’t your parents be looking for you?”

“Nah, they’re talking with the grown-ups on the other side of the beach.”

“You’re not scared of me?”

“Why would I be? You’re a mermaid.”

Read more >
35

Trollfin

From under the bridge he emerged from the deep,
The murky muddy waters where fish dare not creep,
A hideous sight, a fairy tale creature,
But inspection reveals a most unusual feature.

For this troll was no match for an average man,
Or a woman or a child or a pet or a van,
For crossing the bridge could ne'er be curtailed,
By this strange little fella whose fairy tale failed.

As ugly as expected and a stink that blew wide,
Behaving as expected, in the wavy reeds he'd hide,
When the scent of human perfume inflicted upon his nose,
Just like any other troll he got expectant, struck a pose.

But when the passersby reached the apex (that's the top),
Old troll leapt out and soon became a great big laughing stock,
For even though he looked quite yuck and smelled of sewerage raw,
His Dad once mugged a mermaid here which accounted for his flaw.

He looked like Dad from shoulders up but then mothers genes were stronger,
His saggy chest, depicting breasts, exposed a troll no longer,
No chasing folk who cross the bridge, no legs with which to wade,
His bottom half identical to a pink and blue mermaid!

36

Distraught

distraught
you are merman
scandalised or scared?
you born
into a world
you never thought
existed
brought paranoia
or have they just
brought your washed
self, discarded into
open sea?
Or are you fish out
of  water?
primordial existence?
taken  out of  time
and place?
Space?
The fear that you express
is all ours
All
don't worry
you fear
we  fear
each other
ourselves
Death
Read more >

37

Demented

After a lifetime
of weird, violent dreams,
she was trapped in a bell jar,
a vacuum of muscle twitches,
muted mumbling and silent screams.

She punched soundless glass walls.
She struggled, to no avail,
to kick herself with her rapidly
shrivelling mermaid’s tail
and recoiled from the reflection

of a gurning monkey face,
that sent her crashing
into the glass ceiling,
disordered her REM
and put her in her place.

38

The Big Dipper

Man holding knife cuts another's throat;
we are told to rinse our bodies with salt

water fresh from the sea. In the man's
act, the head comes off clean like a tidy

severed thread, blood pools like a drink
of rose syrup. In my faith system, we are

told such bravery shown in dreams is from
a man of haq - honour and righteousness,

and I feel this will be my answer to him
when he asks of the time crocheted in

unravel-able paunches; I will tell him of
the dreams I see, weave a thousand nights'

stories like parables: fresh sea water
bottled as wispy echoes. Come clean

in truth, there are crying fish slicing own
scales. This will be my word in circular

insistence - he was a siren on the rocks,
forked tail like nettles sweeping tides.

39

Hypnosis

Against the sway and the slap,
in the space between waves,
a sibilant layer plays
to the attuned ear.
It is pure and luring, disarming.
It charms him.
He craves
a fan of silken hair,
satined skin,
a jewelled tail,
and slides through the film.
He glides above coral
and powdered sand
on his dazzling trail,
chasing flickers of dreamlight.
But all magical lands have allure
which is illusion.

His ankle is clasped.
Shackled by barnacled fingertips,
he is jerked and wrenched,
hauled into the sunless trench,
dragged down, down, down,
trawled through fettering fronds,
binding, winding, wrapping,
slicing, shredding, snapping,
as she tows her catch to her lair.
Dark weight swallows
the air.
Read more >
40

Failing Lexicon

From the museum of sacred, terrifying things.
When we said love we meant something else.
Something shaped like a mythical creature
whose lungs were no match for air. Something
with a tail that dragged forever like a tire kicking
up dirt all the way home. I know this now
because it appeared so easily, slipped in
as we fingered the lock’s numbers, the combination
coming up again and again. Love is a thing with teeth
and no memory. It is its own sacred rite clawing.
It will not be forgotten just as I cannot forget this.
Lines draw across the surface, someone else reading aloud.

41

Creature of the C

Mom told me I was
a creature of the C.
Barely able to function.

They told me I would
never make it through
all the setbacks.

Shows what they know.

I live in a concrete ocean,
I battle for my place
on the chain.

It's been a long stream
but all is worth it.
Even with the cords
attached, trying to reel
me in.

42

Beauty Contest

I would lose every time
being a chimera.
That is just fine.
I have learned to rule
my little kingdom by the
sea. When proud Neptune
told me I was evicted,
I found this lovely bottle.
Giving the big middle
finger (or fin) to that old
ocean world, I live my
kingly life in the pleasure
domes of the new world.

43

Not a sea creature

The irony of it all,
long held belief of mystical beauty,
a sacred treasure, subject of many a sailor's fantasy.
The search goes on to find the elusive...
Movies were made to exploit the legend.
Little girls dream of being me. But...
Are they serious?
I simply want to be normal like the other girls.
Without scales and gills, I'm not a freak but not human either.
I must be free to swim with my kind,
You would put me in a glass bubble to use me as an exhibit,
No, that is not who I am.
In the midst of my ugliness is the true beauty of who I am.
Look for me if this gives you joy,
but leave me to live as I was created, if only in the hearts and minds of the seaward soul.

44

(note found on napkin at the turf coffee house)

sea-hag in skin and stillness her glass home her bell
her dripping tits the way the world greets her
adores her abhors her the curve of her tin tail
her senescent scales her sick shine her sea-spit
the whole wound of her mouth the plague of her hair
the salty bone of her eyes the storm of her shadow

45

Yield

aghast
agape
a gap

her scales no longer
moistened by salt
unlike her eyes

what is a mermaid
without the sea
what song can she sing

without the tides in her skin
inside a glass dome akin
to the deepest loneliness

a silent note, hollowed
the face of a forlorn lady
who will follow her

and her plight

shallow is the night
when the lights
in the museum are dimmed

unredeemed
tongue out, she licks
her own tears

46

39 St James’s Street

I had been there only once before, maybe three years earlier. The last time had been a hot, airless, sticky day in late May and my dear aunt was already crotchety and more than a little ill tempered. No 39 was not a great deal cooler inside than it was out on the street despite its dark interior and thick walls.

I was mortified when my aunt declared to the waitress that she wasn’t happy with our table and would certainly be needing one by the window. I blushed so much that I fear my face must have been akin to a beetroot.

Why did she always have to make a fuss? It didn’t matter where you went, things were never right, never ever quite good enough and although she was generous in taking me on regular outings I always partly dreaded them due to the excruciating embarrassment I felt more or less whenever she spoke to anyone.

After a minute or so of awkward shuffling and moving of chairs, we were seated by a small window that had been opened just enough to let a small flow of air through, had there been any air that day, but there wasn’t so it was particularly useless.

I sat facing into the room and I will tell you now that the most striking thing about that coffee shop was that the walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, all the way around, on every wall. Dark narrow wooden shelves, filled with all kinds of mysterious objects. Bottles, exotic looking vases with brightly painted birds on them, huge sea shells, bigger than I’ve ever seen before or since, strange stones that had been varnished to bring out their colour, sets of brass scales, an entire shelf of what looked like small telescopes, jars with stuffed frogs inside, although they looked horribly alive and like they might hop about on the white linen table cloths if you dared open a jar.

Read more >
47

Mermaid

...and thus I bear my wrists, their scales
my monkey's face and my soul to all.

Look hard look fast for the tiniest crack
in my sea green skin my shrivelled cunt

and see how my breasts have become
two empty defunct leather bags. I am

neither fish nor fowl my frozen scream
once seen is a mantra you'll never unhear.

Bear witness to my stickleback, my tail, my grin
its teeth my unseeing eyes the holy grail

that is my skull the me that is no more
than a primal invitro image of you and yours.

48

Mermaid in a Glass Dome

Her face is fixed
in the agony of capture,
the distress of separation,
of being dragged from her sea
world into this window for watchers.

In her anguish she has shed
the rainbow colours
of once lithe flesh to crusty brown;
it is deflated, drained of the last
life giving ocean droplet;
her tissue wrinkles,
speaks old lady dryness,
a sun scorched hide.

See her torment,
her last moment frozen
for our pleasure?

49

THE MYTHOLOGY OF STEREOTYPES

Sculpted from the claw of a giant squid,
stained with its leprous ink,
the figurine presents in a bell-jar case,
seeming to plead for privacy …
or freedom.

In a similar frame of mind,
the unfortunately hideous model
had screamed Mer-hag curses from the net
suspended from the dragger’s winch,
kept alive by high pressure sea-hoses,
as the captain’s son –
a callow undergraduate of Burren –
had extended his portfolio
with his latest work exposing
the mythology of stereotypes.

50

MIGRATION TO A DARKER WORLD

Ig'ran fretted in the transparent dome that had become her prison, her terror and agitation obvious from the contorted gesture of her emaciated form.

She was not schooled in deception, verbal or non-verbal. None of them were. Honesty was instinctual among her kind, so she didn’t know how to hide the anguish. Her four babies had been ripped from her breasts as she had fed them in that supposedly secluded cove.

Her people had ventured from the once peaceful depths as the population had decreased and the sickness from above waxed. They hoped to find fresh blood for their lines and, of course, seek to replenish their waning provisions and replace their dying crops.

It had been harrowing to discover the bodies of emigrants and swimaways along the current of migration yet, despite the implied peril of their corpses and skeletal remains; she had waved her husband on ahead when her time had come.

The pod needed his wisdom and instinct. He was the elder, their leader, and – she'd assured him – she would be along soon.

She wondered where he was now. She could imagine him swelling with pride at his offspring.

Her four babies had been ripped from her breasts –

The creatures with detachable skin the colour of the Arctic sky at noon returned, their bulbous chests splotched with what looked like blood.

Read more >
51

Old Wife’s Tale

Bonsai trees
white asparagus
Chinese ladies feet
bottled up, contained, restrained
We have a habit of controlling -
forcing, shoving, might over what might
His neatly clipped hedge
my manicured lawn
trained, tamed and tacked
When we first met, it was frolics and falls
now I'm contained behind his glass wall

52

A Revolution is Coming

Oh, what end has befallen us all
Unspeakable evil that dwells but not in flesh
Pollutes our minds, desecrates our souls
Makes our hearts unreasonably hard

The truth that is seen but not acknowledged
Hushed beneath the carpet of rhetoric
Metaphors that have no meaning
Except the grotesqueness that
Only an unimaginable evil can design

Soaked in blood, the bloodied wounds
Lusts more for keepsakes
A meter forth
Strewn limbs pine for their halves
While the canvasses of blood
Wait for tears of hearts
To render them white again

To the Unicorns of peace
To Angels of Love
For the world is a cold, dark place without Love
And Love is where all happiness lies
As a Mermaid would lovingly testify

53

Biologist

At two, you fell in love.
By three, before you could string
a complete sentence together,
you knew several species;
their ferocity, geography, anatomy
(1st & 2nd dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fin).

Great Whites, most dangerous
but it was man’s fault, you said,
for dressing up as seals.
Followed by Tiger, Mako, Thresher,
Hammerhead. Learnt your colours:
blue, blacktip, whitetip, gray, lemon.

Liked the ugly ones best:
Goblin, Wobbegongs.
Cried, when you found out
Honeycomb and Angels
were endangered, decided
to be a Marine Biologist.

At eight, you explored
The Blue Planet. Posed under
a magnificent megalodon jaw
twice your height, its teeth
larger than your fierce hands.
Watched divers with envy.

Read more >
54

End Of Days?

Deformed, Gollum merman bereft;
confined, teeth bared and skeletal hands -
screams in sepia, Munch-like, out of bell-jar:
dilated, blackened eyes lifted to the skies:-
9/11, Madrid, 7/7, Bali, Paris, Brussels,
Mumbai, Istanbul, Nice, Berlin, Kabul,
Manchester, London: inhumanity and terror -
agonising, beseeching "when will it all end?"
From the bell-jar, 'answer came there none'.

55

No Mermaid

No Selkie, this sad
tattered specimen
more like a dehydrated fish
brown with age
brittle as dry leaves
and old paper
a clever scarecrow
stitched and stuffed
and hung up under glass
its monkey face frozen
in an eternal scream.

Nothing here that could tempt
even the loneliest sailor
to abandon ship.
Nothing of the sleek
flash and dive,
of smooth bodies in dark water.
Nothing that could fool us
who have seen them
shining in the moonlight,
and heard their songs,
long as the songs of whales,
an enchantment
older than our earliest
wordless dreams
before we knew we could
breathe air.

56

Thirsting on the Promise of Wine

Miracle forgers and monster-crafters
Have gathered us doubters from dry churches
Where thirsty screaming begged empty rafters
Here, prayers answered with a ticket’s purchase

How apt is this unnatural creature
Aping wonder and fishing for worship
But in awed gasps to this sideshow feature
We still give drunken praise from moistened lip

57

Showman

A young dawn
A whiff of the salt spray
and a happy birdsong met under a tree
and became me

but the tamer was near


I felt him grow in the twin tulips that refused

to lift their heads and grew full of sorrow

Their stems gave out a stench

From blossoms to hags, they went

I hung on
to the edge of the sky

wedging a wave between my feet

grasping at a moon beam
never breathing out my scent
nor breathing in, his poison
and drank from the last floating, furtive cloud



The tamer, an old hand, a dream catcher

threw a bell jar over the elements

and I was caught



A slow reverse tango
Freedom aged
choked by the concentrated blue and salt

scorched by bitter moonlight
throttled by the trapped fluff



Read more >
58

The Mermaid’s curse

Fish fly high above the coral reefs and oyster beds full of precious pearls. The sea is calm, rippling as we swim as one around the bay. My sisters won't go near the boat that’s docked for the night. A campfire burns on shore and a circle of men surrounds it. A single shadow moves on deck. It has to be a man. I have to see him.

By the time I reach the ship, the shadow man is sitting on a low launch deck at the back of the vessel. He’s smoking, blowing out big puffs of smoke that roll like waves. He sings a song with verses as steady as storm clouds.

He calls me to him without looking up from the net he’s mending. “Here, my pretty mermaid. Just a little closer. Won’t you sing for me?”

They keep me in a crate at first. A box with no light or water. The shadow man’s hands were rough as he untangled my body from the net he’d cast over me. My scales are damaged from the fight and refuse to shine. My hair came out from the root in one swift fall.

When he brings me ashore, the shadow man speaks in languages I can’t understand. He says the word ‘mermaid’ over and over again as people in the marketplace shake their heads, turn their backs and laugh at him. As the light fades an old man, as worn as driftwood, approaches us.

“My poor mermaid, so far from home. Won’t you sing for me?” he asks.

No sound comes when I open my mouth. The words of the songs I’ve known since childhood die on my lips. I sing them over and over again in my sleep but they disappear in daylight.

Read more >
59

Bad Days

I often feel like this
Something under glass
on someone's shelf
Pastel wallpaper behind me
On display I am for
the wrong people to see

I wouldn't mind so much if it
weren't for the gross misrepresentation
of myself
I don't always look so bad
Hair a mess, eyes bulging,
teeth sharpened
Frozen in a scream

If you were to see me on
my better days you'd
like me more
I'm actually put together at times
Hair combed and not so frantic

They caught me on an unfortunate day
when the traffic drove me crazy,
my check bounced and the
twins wouldn't stop crying

I look like a sick mermaid but
only on the days I need
professional help

60

mythic thing

i am puckered up
shriveled and scaled
soaked in bath water
come and see it

the mermaid!

heaving and sighing
and suffocating
come and touch me
crispy sea girl

gaping wide mouth
you should floss more
show me steady pulse
breath a lil closer

dead thing
real thing
girl thing
bitch thing

i can’t read lips no more
          too tired.
only squinting eyes
licking up my body
my breasts, my tail

61

Fatality

The light touch of hummingbird wings
turns into a brutal touch of lightnings.
The most feared female silhouette
emerges from a sea of altered fire.

Through the clarity of his body is distinguished
a dagger or a flower,
with her arcane language
she claims to be sister of the night
and sister of the dream.

She wants to drink the wine
of your blood.
She wants to eat the heart
of your future.

62

Of Gods and Mermaids

Belief systems come and go, the rock which we inhabit turns slow on its axis. She stares out the window of her box room at the monsoon type conditions and thinks… the clouds, they do not harm anyone.

For years now all there has been on the news is war and violence and even more before. The world has always been a violent place, are the recent events any different to over a thousand years ago when the Vikings raided a coastal settlement.

Humans are one species living on one planet but with a myriad of different ideologies, cultures, imaginary friends and world views. In the 21st century it is not time to put an end to the belief in gods and mermaids.

63

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

To: My mermaid lover

Walk to the shore
Stay there awhile with just your thoughts

Dip your feet my dear into my water
Feel the wind against your skin
            meet me with your tears

Fall into me long-lost lover
How long have you been away from me?
I still hear your songs
            carried in the wind

My anguish beats against the shore
Shaking oceans
            remembering you

How beautiful you were
Your golden locks glistened against my rippling skin
And I held you buoyant
Showed you off to fishermen

Foolish were the ones who thought you belonged to them
            they rest at the bottom of my sea

Where are you my love?
I am a lonely sea
            without you

Why don’t you come?
            I will yearn for you always

Read more >
64

The anguish of dystopia

Rescued from the effluent
by a bare foot boy,

the small fish swimming in a
ditch, watched by a boy

crying for his mother who
is sleeping too long.

Rescued with his water pail,
then he stoops to drink.

The small fish who came too soon,
saw too much, leaves a brother

to weep for their mother
who is sleeping too long.

65

Lot No. 32 – The Merhag

Whether I was born in the ocean under the gaze of Neptune or made by an artisan pseudo-taxidermist, it makes no difference. I am priceless. I exist to make you gasp. As invaluable as the look on your face as you behold me, I am a creature that throws your concept of self overboard. Mythical, I haunt. I bewitch. Seeing the horror in your eyes, I reflect your own carnal limits and eventual demise. On my pedestal, I rotate. Aghast, your faces peer – the perfect exhibit.

A placard tells of my life as voluptuous temptress and pariah. At every turn I witness my own image in the glass, abhorrently decayed – a haggard, desiccated fossil. Throughout this scrutiny, I am composed, unaffected. I have risen above the superficial. This is Nirvana.

I am lot number 32. Delicately unpacked from a box filled with a cushioning sea of foam nuggets, I wasn't always a Merhag. I was set free from my maidenhood, where for centuries I had supped on the elixir of eternal youth.

With my first true-love, I fell deeply, until his libido was exhausted. He became fatigued by my fingers’ desirous caresses – worn down by the incessant lapping, crashing waters and infinite rising and settings of the sun. He consumed the many nuanced textures and aromas of my hair. Corporeality susceptible to pain through a wanton crescendo that seduced his senses, until he was asphyxiated by his own greed.

I moved on, quickly filling his absence by tantalizing the multitude of sailors who dared sate their curiosities. Later, their attentions bored me. Yawning, deprecating, distracted, I became taken by their gifts. Wondrous bribes, trinkets exchanged for a kiss, a scale, a lullaby. I mocked their frailty, until finally I felt ashamed.

Read more >
66

Out of my Element

Combing shadows out of place, I swim
in the uncommon medium of glass,

my drowned song split on rocks
where countless ships have broken promises.

My eyes are the memories of widows,
my mouth the empty hands of children

clutching for comfort at my leather dugs
that offer no comfort but sand.

Bottreaux bells peal far and deep
beneath my tessellated mirror, yet

my fishbone wrists conduct no music
but the unbearable noise of air.

67

Sea Creature

They called them delusions.
Ramblings of a harried mind,
her underwater world,
where only she could swim

The pull of dancing colours,
lulling from the shore,
the swell of immortal voices,
a chorus only for her

In a world of mocking,
where touching, seeing,
are the only truths,
she has no such doubt

in the thrashing limbs
and beating heart
of a yearning,
crying sea

It’s time to leave
this unstable ground,
of pitying glances,
rumours behind hands

It’s time to re-enter,
her womb of water,
be led back home,
by the mermaids’ song

68

Transparent Dome

I am watching the wind whistle and whip
The window blinds,
While I lightly trace the tepid rain flowers,
Splashed on my transparent dome.
My fins recoil,
And crinkle and split

I can taste the saline that flows
Down the furrow on my brow
and I choke.

You tap my trap, tap tap
Tap tap,
Rattle my rib cage, my fragile bones
Then you hold me, pressing
the curl of your finger flat, onto my window –
Evidence should I wish to report you.

69

Murdered Maid

Free, once, in the glass sea
wrapped in mystery of tides
my song, my song in the creak
of broke timbers, last choked
seaman's note, below birds
sea birds like me, Deep
in the deep hidden, or catch
a glimpse in your dreams
fish me out on a line
I'll slip, slime from your grip.
What is this agony?
See how changed, not sea
but dry wilt betrayal.
Who netted my creature
self in a glass jar, in the glaze
of your gaze, petrified?

70

Fragment from a Mermaid’s Diary

They haul me from coral mansions, leave me to dry in the sun on the ship’s deck. My face freezes in an expression of terror and pain, all eyes and bared teeth. Skin wrinkles, hair falls out. Once opulent breasts, the talk of the Seven Seas, become shrivelled dugs. Long days on the ship, desiccating, chasing the setting sun.

How the flabby two-legs gawp, prod, revile me. The same beings once enthralled by my song and sensual body. The ship stops at places with strange sights and smells and even stranger creatures with four legs and fur. The smell of fish frying fills me with longing.

After an age, we arrive at a narrow tract of brown water, grey buildings and sky. A babble of voices and noise rises up like smoke into the sour air. I drop my comb and mirror into the water – my golden hair is just a memory and I don’t want to see the monster I’ve become.

I am taken to a dry place, impaled on a plinth, the air around me solidified into a domed prison. Hundreds of two-legs file past me each day, their faces rapt with revulsion and mocking. The little ones point and laugh. Some call me ‘Monkey-Fish’, but I am neither. The brown liquid they drink here is like their brown water. All day long there is the tinkling of bright coins.

Sometimes I dream of falling into the brown water, swimming downriver until I enter a cold sea, towards the rising sun until I'm home...

71

The Mermaid’s Curse

We knew the arguments by heart,
sang them to poets on the strand
who mistranslated us in ways
which lost all urgent meaning.
We spent years whispering to sailors,
nothing to show for it but combs.
One of us must go on land.

He claimed he was a man of science,
could present me to the Royal Society,
my grave warnings delivered in good time
to save mankind and my beloved ocean.
When all assembled in the lecture room
he pumped water from my dome
to demonstrate some theory of his own.

I breathe the terror of his air and scream:
your breathing world will drown in water.

72

Wave Syllables

I heard about her
first on the backs of waves,
pluming crests, salt smells,
meaningful undulations.

She whispered to me
across an ocean surface,
suggesting we might take
our swim suits, our useless
useful trappings of daily
worlds, travel away.

This morning I wait for
her on the shore, impatience
punctuated only by the shrill
balking of seagulls.

73

Sea Monster

at night
you start me
then steal away
pieces of my youth

they promised
that sea monsters
would have scales
barnacles
faces of fury

you were a lover
or child
a terror in disguise
who wrapped me
in the promises
of deep dark waters

lift me to
the surface where
I might paddle a while
rediscovering myself.

74

Cloche

Etched corners
Frame my fragility
Water cutting through layers
[Bulldozer precision]
The cold sheen of translucent scales reminding me;
I am here.
I am still here.

I can taste myself.
Cold fronds slap their support over my face
[My sensorium]
Measuring time in pulses of entropy
My teeth a series of sundials.
I'm slowly falling apart
But I'm here
I'm still here.

75

Of Water and the Spirit

There is an ocean in each of us
old Father used to say
but now I stare at my reflection and
only see water in my eyes
despair swims in my spirit
attempting to understand the depth
of the cages that we choose to lock ourselves in

some days I lay in bed
forgetting how to move my legs
diving further into hopelessness
staring at the blank canvases of
the ceiling and the sky
those moments I look out of my window
concluding that as much as we try to escape
as much as we intake
all exhibitions of human expression
are just explorations of our inward longing

and all good things get exploited

is the sea overflowing my green and blue eyes
a sign of forgotten goodness awaiting to collapse
on the shores of my cheeks

I suppress these thoughts once again
drink water and forget my musings
let their life disappear
into the abyss of my memory
like sand on the beach

76

The Liars

She was an ugly capture,
and was smelling quite off -

'landed in nets off Batavia,
and worth five thousand dollars'

- traded for the last time
in the city of London.

But that wasn't her real story,
rather the laughed result

of a fishmonger's joke
down in Billingsgate:

Charlie stitched half a salmon
to the rotting monkey

which had been found
on Lower Thames Street,

George Cruickshank etched,
and embellished, the lie

committing the mermaid
to a much longer life.

77

Wind Song

You sing,
but your voice is lost
in snarls of sails and that
howl of yours scouring
my spine. Nips and bites.

Sail, sail on tideless days.
Shrill as the chop and heave
of your salty breath, sailing
through this soured sea.
You've drowned my curiosity.

And I’m lost, too lost,
in your monotonous flutter,
wind song clinging to your
breasts, and dressed up
in fog and spindrift.

But the stars cursed you -
turned you old and scarred
as chewed leather, just a
song chasing across the sea.
So I’ll trim my sails, ever on.

Lost, so lost,
but still I sail. Sail on.

78

A SCREAM FROM BEHIND GLASS

it has been going on for some time
with the internalisation of an in taken breath
passed through each gift of sensation
then expelled with the same force
as ingestion - is an incomparable and pure
example of what is possible
from the impossible where we too
are freaks of natural selection
who have no hiding place in a bell jar -
each appearance in public is an exhibition
of unrevealed fears where even a smile
could be an axe head ready to fall
and smash the glass wall of our assumptions
with the playfulness of a dead fish tail
on trial for being different over a long period
with a useful lack of evidence
not worth looking at just like that place
just outside the window where the invitation
is to follow and resistance is still felt
within the depths of the continued scream
even though the glass never shatters - at least
most of the time air is breathable where
equilibrium exists inside each heartbeat
until the promised end - not usually placed on display
79

Under Glass

The whole world’s a bloody freak show
Horrified and horrifying.
Who’s on the outside, who’s looking in?
        Both are dying.
One is victim, one aggressor.
Tolerance gone and change in high gear
Money hunger destroying nature
What was normal once now gone for good.
Industrial wastes and polluted water,
poisoned air and tainted food.
        We’ve become such ugly creatures
of warped chromosomes and mutant genes
that should we view a grotesque mis-creation
It’s likely just our mirrored image.
        Bloody freak.
80

Feejee Mermaid lookin’ for a good time, call now

Go on, fill your goggles, then Wikipedia it. Feejee Mermaid, I ain't known for my kisser. My anguish – and there is real anguish beneath the bell jar at the Turf Coffee House here on Saint James Street – is that I can't join you for a cup of tea. Can you imagine how parched I feel at this particular point in history? To whet my lips, if I still have lips – no, don't answer that, your face already says too much – yes to whet my lips, to while away a few more seconds in paradise, to feel the salt breeze in my hair again and imagine myself not hastened to the rear end of a trout, but in the South Pacific cracking open a coconut against a rock...

How much do you know about monkeys? I'm guessing not a lot. Some believe in the theory of the aquatic ape although I don't think my desiccated figure is quite the genetic link they were hoping for. You look like an atheist. Have you read John Berger's essay Why Look at Animals? Do you feel morally compromised right now as you swill Earl Grey this early in the day, contemplating a decomposed monkey torso stitched to a fish? Or still curious?

Hey baby, looking for a good time? I do after hours at the coffee shop too. Just ask at the counter. Hot ape seeks fun loving gimp for water sports and cosplay. BYO imagination. And glue gun. By the way, the bell jar is made of plastic. Just lift the seal.

81

THE UNHEARD SHOUTS

Brown and emaciated,
Part human part repugnant
A predestined fate awaits us

Enveloped with the myriad glass shackles
With the heartbeat mirroring the ticking clock
Our cries go unheard with their echo left to us

Striving to create an identity
Struggling to break the mould
Our unceasing efforts don't seem unworthy to us...

82

THE EXPLORER

We only went because our own planet was becoming untenable – too many people crammed into the habitable areas, and those polluted beyond redemption.

Our astronomers studied the solar system thoroughly, with telescopes, orbital probes, and finally a robot landing, which collected enough samples to prove the plan was viable. The planet was composed of 71% water, but the dominant species were land-dwellers who only trawled the surface. It was perfect – all that ocean just waiting for us to colonise.

Our Spaceship Pioneer splashed down undetected and dived to its pre-determined depth. I was among the first to swim free. Just enough sunlight filtered through for me to see the stunning scenery – countless variety of coral and enough fish and sea-plants to feed us for centuries. If only I had remained at that depth, but curiosity was my undoing.

One of their huge, box-like vessels drummed dramatically overhead, and when I swam up for a closer look an enormous block fell – or was pushed – from the side. It sank slowly, disintegrating into seemingly innocuous parts, and a translucent curtain had enveloped me before I was aware of it. I have shouted till my gills hurt but no-one can hear me and, try as I might, I cannot escape.

83

not in a bell jar

it’s all out of reach now:
the sound of the waves
salt water on my skin
coral on the seabed
life on the ocean floor

I’ll create my own joy
keep myself unslaved
I’ll unchain myself
from your audacity to believe
that I’m caught in a bell jar

here I’ll breathe and think
myself calm as a cow
engineer blissful thoughts
train my mind’s eye
to push away the boundaries

to beyond the shadows
on the horizon and yonder
where the sky is my happiness
sun and clouds unslave me
from a chattering mind

there I find all I desire:
the sound of the waves
salt water on my skin
coral on the seabed
life on the ocean floor

84

Swim Like You Mean It

This will be my second year in a row without the sea

Hideous, I swim
As silver hoops warp sunny wind into gales
Lulling me to sleep

My imaginary friend swirls in my stomach
And my nipples come out to say hello to the whole damn neighbourhood
I used to hold my breath underwater for so long that my head started pounding

But I felt safe in my chlorinated womb

I love how human blubber moves when kicking in a swimming pool
Creating beautiful waves in our flesh

My dad taught me to swim in Lanzarote
My mum told me recently that I could have come out of her pool a mutant
But instead
I arrived fat and juicy and ready to dive in

My fins have become prematurely arthritic and
There are cigarette butts stuck in my gills
I narrowly escaped that plastic 6-pack from strangling me

And yet

I still swim deeper than the vibrations of a humpback’s roar.

We can’t scream under water
So we may as well smile and let the air bubbles out slowly through our nostrils

A lovely grimace of survival

85

A Scream Unheard

This world is drowning,
oblivion never felt so close,
no longer a stranger to the strangle
of the Octopus's tentacled choke.
I sit counting the bodies like bread crumbs
scattered for the birds to eat.
I hear the muddled screams echoing from sea,
a torn admonishment
to turn and embrace eternity.
But men do not hear,
captive to desire, the rotting flesh.
Men are stuck in their ways,
a fish on a hook,
a heartless body,
a cold crashing wave.

Read more >

86

Of Ether and Inertia

A slithering reptile, a slimy
arthropod contorts in pain, when a machine
makes shapes of 11 dimensions
telling me that I am the
undisputed king of a lonely thought-world.

But I feel sky as my
own skin. Memory of hyper-seas
haunts and shapes my darker unknowns,
which were once my
home and graveyard at the same time.

I am a schizophrenia. I am a double
agent of ether and inertia.

Torn like a black-hole, bright like
an undead star. I am a Buddha living inside
the heart of an ancient beast.

87

Beautifully Ugly

I am too hard on myself. Maybe I should have listened to my mother. I think her as a hindrance. I skip my training periods. I could not go back now because it is my wish. Yes, I felt ready as if I knew all I ought to know. I felt confident rather over confident as if I learnt all I ought to learn. Thinking of my home, makes me smile. My home – you can never come to my home. My home is my mother. My mother is the ocean. I stay in her lap – a place where no one like you can set your feet on. I know I am to be kept track upon. I know I am monitored. But something pushes me to explore. And I come up. Since then, I have just been thinking about my life. How I loved to know what was above the ocean. I do not know what destiny has in for me. I come up, come out to see what is above, leaving the secured place of my mother’s lap. And then, I am trapped. I am attempting to come out of this trap. I am trying to use a bit more of force than I used to come up. Experiencing loneliness has not been so great to me. The is stillness. There is silence. There is darkness. There is fear. There is failure. There is ugliness. I have turned awful. I lost my beauty. I have not lost my faith. I have not lost my hope. Waiting for one lightning, just a streak of lightning that can illuminate my world and I can swirl to the birth of sunlight and death of darkness.
I am not going to repent. I am not going to brood over. I know, I fall out of place. But, I am glad that I have life which most of the others do not. I am glad that I can try. I am glad that I want to try. I want to go back to the ocean bed. I want to share the unflinching love. For, I know, how love is important. For, I know, how painful is loneliness. For, I know, how good it shall be to be kind – kind to strangers. For, I know, I can be home if I try.
88

The View from a Glass Window

So full of it.

Falling heads,
respite in the loss of minds.
Run, my sanity,
heels at your wake.
Shoot and aim for the tartar roads,
break the flight,
and search-
This is the cream of your quest.

Fallen heads,
Despite the loss of minds.
Saviours, fighters, broken homes,
Rising suns; moon as one.

Sewn in the cement, are
garbs of the beggars, united
and thoroughly divided,
by worth.

So full of it.
So very full of it.

But I ask myself, still-
‘Don’t you want somebody to love?’

89

Come One, Come All

Incased in glass,
25 cents,
Come see the mermaid,
In her unnatural habitat,
Gawk and point,
Whisper if you must,
Pay special attention,
To her skin of rust,
Years in the briny ocean,
Heart on the line,
Created this tortured soul,
Come one, come all,
See the broken,
Forever enshrined.
90

Did I Hear Your Ocean Waving

and did I
Hear your ocean waving
goodbye to me

as I packed boxes
in the driveway
crowing over memories
of ice cream cone
dinner dates
that never happened

did I hear you call my
name on craggy
early morning shores
of coffee running
out

spilling heat on
my barista toes
as I washed away
again with the moon.

91

a specimen of sorts

look at me, she said
I am the mirror of your soul
half monkey, half fish
a specimen of sorts

will you see beauty
or will you see
the shrivelled up
ugliness
of life

do I make you cringe
uncomfortable
my teeth bared
torture etched
on my face

will you see yourself
with unwanted vanity
eyes startled, fearful
shedding unbidden tears
for the creature inside

look at you, she said
a curiosity on display
for all the world to see
a specimen of sorts

92

A Selkie Visits The Mermaid

I sat down in the coffee shop,
all calm on the surface.
Nursing a licorique sweet and
eeking         out         a flat white
for a long as I could, ordered the Ocean Pie
and played with the salt cellar,
to observe him from the other side
of the glass.

I can see myself in there,
a mainlander on this coastal street.
I know this –
that he has been missold as a maid;
has hoped it will earn him safety, the fool.
We have come to here from different places.
The world was divvied between our types;
as divided, as forked tongued, as our tails.

I knock on the glass,
touch wood, he can hear me.
This was a competition to see
who could breathe your air the longest; pure endurance.
This time above the waves;
he’ll make the best of it.
It’s all an indulgence for me,
I’m on a crest of it.

Read more >

93

The Gnome In The Dome – A Wondrous Find!

The eminent explorer, botanist and zoologist Sir Charles Barley, referred to in cheaper publications as Charlie Barley, has dumbfounded the world with his touring exhibition of “The Mermaid” currently on display at The Natural History Museum of Ireland. Sir Charles returned with the taxidermic creature following his six-month exploration of Madagascar’s east coast where he also procured hundreds of pressed examples of a true-blue orchid, now extinct.

One visit to the affectionately nicknamed “Gnome In The Dome” chills the blood, its terrifying wide-eyed grimace preserving the manifestation of the beast so accurately it is, in the words of the Lord Chancellor, “as if the creature is reading one’s own private thoughts!”

Crowds queuing the length of Merrion Street and beyond continue to disrupt the progression of traffic as the public flock to visit, despite caution from rival zoologist John Beaverbrook. “Exotic animals, particularly from the depths, have previously disappointed upon discovery of stitch-marks in the hide, revealing immoral amalgamations of beasts,” he warned upon return from Northern Africa with not a single find, his sponsors embarrassingly out-of-pocket. For the public this spat is a mere sideshow as street vendors make enormous profit selling colourful mermaid prints.

Read more >

94

The FeeJee Mermaid

It’s disgusting.

A shriveled, bony ape’s torso soldered somehow onto a desiccated fish tail, coated in scratchy hair. An ungodly thing, created by Japanese fisherman and bought by a credulous fool of a sea captain. And now, it’s going to make me rich.

All it needs now is a name. Something that will make them pity this beast through all of their disgust, find it poignant, find it tragic, even. I don’t believe in cheating the public, you see. I give them what they really want, not what they think they do. And while they might dream of women from the sea with skin shimmering like pearls, hair dark as seaweed, and fish tails the color of ancient bronze, the fantasy is unrewarding. It makes it no easier to return to a world of human women who nag and grow fat and break wind. I want them repulsed but fascinated by this brush with the Other. Repulsed so they turn to their wives in relief, struggling against an overwhelming and primal fear, but fascinated enough so they return again and again to my Museum, staring through the glass into the horror in the creature’s eyes, searching for themselves.

95

A Ghazal on The Shrunken Mermaid

I thought she was a mermaid; yes, I said,
To her, “You were a flesh and blood mermaid”.

She held my hand, “See, isn’t it soft to touch?”
You had long hair, such a curvy mermaid!

She rubbed my fingers on her arms, “Aren’t they smooth?”
“Am I fat?” she asked, and then, “I’m your mermaid!”

She ate loads of fish; I called her my mermaid, my fish,
I met her, came back, and wrote songs on the mermaid.

There were gaps, silences, untold, unexplained between us,
Sometimes, I sensed there was a shrinking of the mermaid.

The last time, she met me; she cleaned out the relationship,
I still said to her, “You are a flesh and blood mermaid.”

Wondered Roomy, why think she fooled you, or worry about it,
The times are such; true beauty is merely a shrunken mermaid!

96

From a Sad Mermaid

"You will be trapped in
unknown worlds"
That was the midnight curse
of the red eyed, marbled eye
cyclops-like wicked witch

Now, I'm enclosed
in walls of glass
All is visible to me
but nothing I can touch,
feel, enjoy

I'm half-fish, half human,
Science doesn't recognize me,
So it has captured me
with the aim to observe me-
my characteristics, my behavior
Then, to classify me
in some specific species

O scientific scholars!
To your world
I don't belong,
I come from the
mysticism of mythology
where brave and handsome
men like Odysseus and Aeneas
dwell with dignity

Read more >

97

Flotsam

I made you out
of some sand and sea
a floating artifact
lady of a lost kingdom
I made up in my mind

I listened to your rolling
wave assumptions
before I formed your
barnacle mouth

I gave you little flippers
but was afraid to let
you swim
my swift creature.

98

THEATRICS

I'm showing you how it feels after a while
to be in a well-cut out box, among other things.
Now for those that believe in precious stones
that sparkle, sanitized spaces and cages of gold —
let it be known that warning signs come
in different types, not only billboards. Dominion
comes from one stone but isn't monolithic. Neither
is anything. Look closer. Do you see me? I'm alive,
breathing. My eyes are fossils of yesterday's dreams
my box was too hard to allow for. That was morning.
The shades of cypresses around didn't save noon —
I couldn't step out to let sun-rays seep within me.
At evening, the apocalypse trudged closer with
its heavy feet — the world called me an ugly caricature.

It is night now. The cold winds roar outside and yet
cannot break my house of glass. There is stark silence.
The inmates do not allow for any stretching of senses.
I've been set to fire now, look — before dawn, unmade
to be, forming into charcoal remnants on the pyre of wood.

99

Mermaid Plunder

What does it mean when a mermaid cannot hear
the moans of her sex or the cries of her progeny
competing with tourist motors and gouged whales
surging toward the beach?

Oh I will not die, she insists with a mouth full of plastic,
a watery lisp, a swallow of nothing. Her breasts are sore
from the pulls of her babies as she races them ahead of the steal of ships.

I will not die but where oh where am I?

100

Mermaid in a Bell Jar

Turf Coffee House, December 1822

She can only breathe
when she is back under

the glass. Her skin folds
not used to air,

the dust mites drifting
plurally down her hair

and snout. It's beautiful,
she thinks sometimes,

to have gills so still.
And yet to have a tail

is always a form of reaching —
like wanting money. Coffee

people drink their black
blurs, toss their change

and leave — she sees them.
The heat expands the air

inside her jar. She is
the warmest thing in the room,

Read more >
101

The alchemist[s]

Here we go again, the transformation of self in another trip, in another dream in search of the whole, the anima, the Freudian Jungian karmic kaboodle. With webbed footprints across the soul a fragile scaffolding was constructed. Mermaidian ebbing and flowing, a murmur in the fog then onto the earth. An aquatic solitude could have been the place but the restless one came a-shrieking and a-squealing: 'So foul and fair a day I have not seen.' Oh believe it, seeing is believing.

102

Fishwife

Of course he fell for her
when he found her
in his net;
who wouldn’t fall
for a half-naked,
golden-haired girl,
with sea green eyes
and a sexy,
iridescent tail?

He plied her with gifts
and enchanting words,
and she found herself lost
in his deep brown eyes,
gladly saying ‘yes’
when he asked her
to marry him;
not realising
he was only there
on holiday.

‘Home’ was inland;
as far from the sea
as it was possible to get,
and the further they travelled
from the preservative brine,
the more it told on her.

Read more >
103

I SAW A MERMAID

My Great Uncle Samuel came to stay
he was an alchemist 'back in the day'.
An old world coffee-house we went to see
this displayed a rare curiosity.
"Tis a mermaid, my lad. Not a young girl—
gold hair flowing and a glass made of pearl.
This mermaid is old, quite wrinkled and worn;
and hermetically sealed, since she was born."
I entered the room with a nervous air;
noticed a bell-jar, which caused me to stare.
Gave me a fright, the weird exhibition!
Yes, she was old, the strange apparition
I felt pity for her trapped expression.
At this point came my pleading confession.
"Please Uncle Samuel buy her for me—
then I will release her, into the sea."
He looked at me sadly and shook his head
"This poor creature would die on the sea bed."
We left the old mermaid there on the shelf
How dreadful to be there all by herself!

104

Selkie

When flung on sand I did not know fins intended
becoming feet.
How strange those bones and toes
that Tempest bruised.

Healing is at first crawling.
Nights taught what legs were for
and I learned sleep in the day.

Dreaming then was certainly a sea change.
Coral kept calling, knowing I’d be back,
that the earth was just dirt.
Cities especially brought back that fact.

By then I was employed,
under the table in more ways than one,
and only finding a field to stand in
returned waves of reverie.

Wind-song, hair lifted
adrift in dancing currents—
the salt on my face was such a surprise
with its little memory of greater liquid.

There must be an ocean inside still,
I thought; there must be a web
between fingers floating before horizons.

Through such blue,
Life’s lessons held a message
And my purpose was to sing of it.

Read more >
105

Trapped In A Goldfish Bowl

Glass light hurts my eyes,
is harsh on the skin.
You would never know that once
I was young too. My full flesh
glistened in the lambent light,
I played hide and seek in the coral,
rode side-saddle on sea horses, or flirted
with ocean princes.

Now, starved of the salt waves’ nourishment,
I am aged and shrivelled,
My withered breasts are subject
to titillated stares, mocking me as myth
or the figment of discredited imaginings.
I couldn’t be more of a fish out of water
if I tried. Can’t you put me away
in a cupboard somewhere?
Allow me to be forgotten?

106

No Mermaid

Out of water. I cannot drink the air.
The bridge has abandoned earth for fire.
The air chokes me with too much light.
No dreams without water. Nowhere
to move. Light is too loud. My songs expire
between pounding air and unsalted tears.
This water, deprived of birthing. This sight,
blinded by soundless sorrow. This light, in fear.

107

The Magic of the Sea

Trapped in a glass bell
I am an object of amusement and curiosity
What is it? they cry.
I am a mermaid, a creature from centuries ago.
Sailors who had explored the oceans in flimsy ships,
their two strange legs, knew us as beautiful mermaids
that saved them from the angry oceans
and left them on the edge of the ocean where they would be found.
We never knew they came from cruel beings
For when I had lingered too long on the rocks
they stole my freedom with their nets.
To the creatures of the sea I was beautiful
I was beautiful to the drowning sailors of long ago
But to these two-legged land dwellers
Who will never know the joy of being a mermaid
I am just a strange ugly creature
Kept in a glass bell to be stared at,
wondering if I am some kind of sea monster.
Don't they understand that to survive I need water
Just as they need air?
That I am still living, but they don't hear
They only stare and laugh at the strange sea creature.
I close my eyes and listen as my sisters call to me
and I no longer feel the pain as my scales dry and harden.
In my mind I swim through the ocean forests
My tail flicks as I race the schools of fishes
I swim through my home of Coral Castles
and search for pearls
Read more >

108

THE MERMAID’S LAMENT

I can’t breathe in here. It would have been better to be corked in a bottle. A bottle filled with liquid, my natural element. A bottle full of rum or sea water to drive men mad.

It was better when I was a bundle of bleached bones on a coral beach, my soul flayed out beneath the sun. The next typhoon the water came back up and washed me back into the unforgiving sea. I was scattered, as a mermaid should be, among my own kind. They and the sea creatures mourned my passing, a submarine chorus of songs, sighs, clicks of regret. This sort of accident can happen to anyone. You get caught by a current and thrown onto the sand. Whales warn their children of the chance thrown dice of tide and fate. And yet …

I cannot rest. The tide, the highest tide of that storm season left a fragment of me on the shore. The merest sliver of mermaid’s fingernail washed up among their flotsam and jetsam — a vagrant from my other life. They found it, the land-livers, stored it away for later examination. Now they’ve taken it out, taken the bare bone, neither fish nor man, reconstituted it. They’re so pleased with themselves, think they’ve found a new species. They should have listened to the sailors’ tales. The wave riders knew me and all my sisters.

Once I was a dream, a rumour. Now I am trapped inside this dry glass dome, my body shrivelled to a husk. Where are my silver scales, my golden hair, my comforting breasts? Where, oh where, my mystery?

109

The sailor and the sea

When you let go of love,
remember the story of the man
who would love a mermaid, and
the mermaid who, in love
with this man from a strange land,
chose to give up who she was meant to be.

In this story, they don’t end up together.
In this story, she realizes
land isn't her home, that
the air here chokes her with
every breath she takes. He realizes
he can’t hold onto his lover too.
That she was part water and part magic,
all of which slips through
human fingers too fast.

That’s how you need to
let go: slowly but surely.
Don’t go looking for a
rebound who looks just
like them, who reminds
you of them so much, that
you cry out their names in
the middle of making love.

Some lovers are like the waves
which come and leave and when
they come back again they are strangers.
Read more >

110

The Scream

I am not sure if I will ever be certain about what a nightmare is. Having written about ghosts and spirits and so many things impossible, it is the imaginable that I cannot imagine. So often I am screaming inside but all you see on the outside is my poker face. I find darkness promising; every time I grope in it, it rewards me with something long lost — a memory; which I then turn into a ghoul or a mermaid, dab on it a few literary devices and it is no more me.

Sometimes I sigh, sometimes I live in my bell jar way too long and it is impossible for my contemporaries to recognize me, for now I am grotesque, a shadow of my past lost in the darkness that took care of me for so long. Sometimes, I am grotesque because I could not spill tears on time, and laughed when I should have cried. Sometimes, I am holding onto a twig when I thought I was holding a hand — both are shriveled, at least that is one thing they have in common. What if I am just a soul trapped in a giant body with glass buttons for eyes? What if I always was abandoned, and shadow is where I dwelt — sighing in my own sobs? What if I have stood numb for so long that I now am a part of the foliage — with shriveled brown skin cracking in places like an ancient paper not handled well? I think I can feel being torn apart, cracking like dry mud in the sun. I am parched and yearning for acid. It is torturous to see myself grow roots and bark where skin used to be; I am no more recognizable. It is like the spider of this world is spinning a web of reality around me, to trap me inside the possible, the 'real', the rational, the sane. I am their insanity, and I must grow roots — be kept from growing wings. I cannot be allowed to slosh in my imagination; the unicorn must die.

And here I am with a rainbow in my eyes and a scream frozen on my lips. My death is a seed for the next season of women writers, and they will be nurtured in the rain of my ashes.

111

Mermaid Empath

She swims into bracken thoughts
down the centre of where two hemispheres
synapse scooping up night terrors
before they take hold
the way blue-faced monkeys
            collect lichen off a tree.

She selects arms of antenna
plucking roots of dismal imagery
in your hippocampus
a place where they echo strange
         dolphin frequencies
         blooming dark stories
              sprouting legs like tadpoles

She stuffs pink jellyfish
deep into her ears
keeping in all the minutia
        of fright
           screaming
            until her mouth hangs loose

112

Neptune’s projects: Making a tail bracelet

Of course I should be doing more
than idling to and fro in a game
of chicken with time, but do not
get perjink with me – I am all
out of grand gestures today,
forever.
           Instead take this tail
bracelet as a token of what I
might like to do if ever I was
brave enough. It’s made from
squid ink, cinnamon dust, a spritz
of Aperol, and embroidered with
tales of hospitality from the lagoons,
kindness enough for two.

113

ONE OF US

My father said it was all smoke and mirrors. But I don’t remember seeing any smoke. And we were standing too far from the little stage where the creature was displayed to be able to tell whether she was surrounded by mirrors at all. And, if so, where they were positioned. I was too young to know that the alcoves in the café had been designed as an ironic tribute to 19th century sideshows. But the flesh on display was real. I was mesmerised by the mythical names on the vintage posters: The Alligator Boy, The Mermaid, The Jackal Man, The Panther Woman. Especially, The Panther Woman! I had recently seen a black and white film on TV where a woman became a panther at night. And I pictured in my mind a creature with the body of a black panther and the head of a glamorous woman, elegantly walking inside a cage. Dangerous but beautiful. So I insisted and, to my surprise, I managed to convince my father — who was very sceptical and too stingy — to buy tickets for the family to see The Panther Woman. It must have been my birthday.

How disappointed I was!

To begin with, it was not a black panther; it was a spotted panther. There was no cage; just the poorly lit stage. And this panther could not walk; she was hanging in the middle of the stage, her stumps tied with ropes to four posts around her. The conceit was that she was so ferocious that they had to keep her tied up at all times, even after all her legs had been severed when captured in the deepest recesses of the Indian jungle. Yet the moustachioed MC, in his thick Eastern European accent, did not sound persuasive. Even someone as naïve as me could tell that the “creature” was simply a woman tightly wrapped in a leopard print costume, the presumed fur around her face clearly a hood. This woman had no feline features other than her cheap, stained bodysuit. Read more >

114

Horror Under Glass

Captured, no escape,
I grasp my hair,
Gasp to catch my breath,
Oxygen running out,
My teeth grind,
My eyes pop,
I feel a chill, sweat
A fever, fevered panicking
Can't breath, who will free me?
Passersby only glance
Some giggle
Most ignore me
Can't they hear my cries?
Can't they see the desperation?
I long for the sea, the air, the sand
I long to swim free
To feel oceans cool,
To glimpse horizons broad
To embrace the warm of sunrise
Or to witness the light fade
Into the thousands of colors
As the sun descends beyond
The depths, overtaken by blue
Fading to indigo, then black
As a band of stars
Wraps across the arc
Of a night sky.
Read more >

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