by Laura Madeline Wiseman
The mermaids chase the shadows, billows of black under the rim of coral, the bellies of barges, the meandering hands of kelp. They call the shadow Desire for the boy in ripped jeans. They call it, Forbidden foods. They call it, What is killing you. They roll through the shadows that print the waves. They lay in the shadows
of shark, krill, shrimp. They let shadows follow them, eddies, torrents, washouts across the shallow coastal sands. The mermaids watch the shadows fall from freighters, submarines, passenger fish, black garbage bags descending from above. They feel the thrum of impact as shadows hit dark rock, feel the hairs on their neck rise. Everyday there are shadows of letters,
skippers, crew, every week black barrels sealed and labeled WARNING in every language but theirs. They don’t call the shadow Man crouching in bush, or Half-lives, or Suicide Pact. They let the shadows fall through the water and watch them drown. They fear nothing. The only thing to fear is mermaids.
Or as the Best Years of Your Life
The mermaids swim the high school pool—a blue rectangle that echoes with the wet flap of feet on concrete, that burns the nose with chlorine, that balms the skin in the vapor of requirement: MWF 9:30 gym class, six-week session. You have to swim unless you bleed. Sometimes the mermaids do water aerobics with the butch gym teacher—short bob, running suit, white New Balances—who turns up the radio to a low bleat of I will survive and leads the class from the pool’s lip. I was petrified flicks up on the underwater thrust of arms swirling out. Pieces of my broken heart fall to the bottom where pubic hairs and gum wads float. Fall apart sucks into the drain with a gurgle and choke. Sometimes the mermaids butterfly lap or doggie paddle or try to hold their breath as long as they can. The tall, balding gym teacher times them with the plastic hands of his stopwatch, but the pink open wound of their mouths never break the surface for air. He keeps timing. Sometimes the mermaids sit on the bleacher with notepads and textbooks. They finish algebra equations or read the last scene in Macbeth. They refuse to hear the banter—skinny white bitch—the drug talk, the easy way light halos the sweat of so much unmarred flesh.
In the Reoccurring Dream
The mermaids couple with sailors. These sailors wear striped knee-high socks, brown blousy shirts, and hats sweat-stained and torn. They are Hook’s men, though his red coat bucks from no mermaid’s form. In the reoccurring dream, the mermaids find their way into red convertibles were ex-lovers caress the stick shift and girls with heavy breasts, black eyeliner, and dark bangs hug them from behind. The girls whisper in their ears, Dream. Or is it, Drive? In the reoccurring dream, the young men don’t shave their beards, but trim their scalps to a bald pate; they don hiking boots, speak of the Alaska wilderness and lean in as they unbuckle their belts. The mermaids lift their tails and back into these men and girls. Why not? they sing. Why not give them what they want?