• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 08

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