The Little Mermaid (poem)

The Little Mermaid

(Wanda Waterman, 2011, from They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good

My dancing was bathed in a gaze

That dripped like honey  through moonlight,

While unseen swords and knives sliced at my thighs.

Oh, searing phantom pain of severed tail,

That pretty tail that steered me through the deep

Past wet azure spaces marked with gilded, silvered life!


Did you know I was silenced, due to you?

My tongue cut out just like a cow’s, for you?

My singing might have tortured you at nightfall,

Or driven your sailors mad,

Compelling them to break great cedar ribs on Neptune’s basalt flanks.

I could have dragged you to me, to your death, and owned you,

But I didn’t.

I chose silence.

And lovely dancer’s legs.

And a living you.


They tell my tale to children now to help them to be good.

I don’t know why.

I did a thing that gave my parents grief,

A thing that made them cry,

Leaving the watery hearth behind

To seek a kind of permanence

That wasn’t mine by birth but could be by naturalization,

With love that grew from nothing less

Than one quick glimpse

Of eyes that spoke to me

Of airy heights and starry harmony.


My story is a battleground for views on afterlife.

Immortalists (for whom our Hans tacked on the second ending)

Would place me, with the daughters of the air, afloat,

While Sadducees transform me into foam to stroke a boat.

And with the stubborn clutch of death itself I keep my secret.

Though my tale’s ripe with clues, you’ll never guess.

But might you love me now, if I confess?

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