When I was nine, I lived to swim and pretend
I was a mermaid—a shining, glamorous siren—
who swam and sang for days not realizing the emerald
ocean was a billiard table in the downtown bar.
The siren’s lullaby is a drunken
karaoke rendition of “I’m Only Happy When It Rains”
buoyed by red-headed sluts and men wearing starched black
shirts and professorial glasses, only smoke
to shield their ears. Through the chorus
the professors etch potential poem titles onto
their cigarette packs. They are distracted
and more sluts drown as quarters rain down the callow water.
All the men look alike—sea men in a worn felt mass
flaunting their purpose. They ship their hands into the fog
they have created, covering the eyes and mouth
of the mermaid. Her song ended ages ago.
The year pioneers her favorite month and season, a number
that doesn’t match a private coolness, surrendering
the sun’s reign to the moon’s command. It is a time when reality
and fantasy collide, when people parade as the past or masquerade
as the dead. Daubed in bright colors, illusion and truth
are as symbolic as the thumping pumpkin and the color
of a witch’s debauchery. There is no charm–she swims
through the night, cloak floating as if seductively led across a cleverly black sea.
The galaxy’s strait is a whirlpool — a nymph becomes a monster, the girl
becomes the woman. It is not the shade of sin that blinds
the men but the blackness of night. The professors’ starched shirts coalesce
like a single panther stalks through an Amazonian stream—treading and dying
yet living — as the witch-mermaid circles the moon she discovers
it was all only a reflection.