My Mother as a Mermaid

Kristin Camitta Zimet


Now I have run your bath, but not too deep.
Wound my arms around your shoulders,
laid you down, here in a tepid cove,
reacquainted you with cloth and soap.
I turn away, to let you seem to take
care of yourself. So you turned, long ago,
pretending not to see me slosh the tub.
I was a mermaid chafing in the net,
your twisty slippy fishgirl. Now I blurt:
“Would you like to be a mermaid?”

The idea bumps you like driftwood.
“Mermaid? What is that?” So I begin:
“She is not woman; she is not a fish,
but both.” You make a light splash
of surprise. I want to say, Your skin
conjoined to scales. Body finned into,
finishing as soul; old woman and young
flowed into one another without seam,
swimming a single face; your memory
grafted to make-believe . . .

“Sailors jumped in to be with her,”
I say, “in the old tales—” You splash.
Maybe you still know part of this.
You swam through hurricanes,
cradling the bodies: one by one,
the men you loved the longest were
washed up into another element,
beached on a shore so dry, imagination
scraped and left you foundering;
and now, divided from yourself,

dizzy upon flattened days, you
hobble. You twine like kelp about me,
missing the dolphin words that let
you ride. I have become your tongue.
I straighten, mend, and smooth;
but down, you pull me down
toward a realm where the bent sun
surrenders into twilit cataracts,
where time swells slow, and motion,
never forward, becomes thick. . .

You listen to the white noise
of the waves, and wait, wait to be
foam. I let the waters drain
and lift us up, my knees facing
your knees; I swaddle us in aqua
terrycloth, paddle my arms to dry us.
“I would not like that,” finally you say,
in a far, washed-out voice. And then
the mermaid swims out of your mind.


Photo: Deborah Carlon

Kristin Camitta Zimet is the author of TAKE IN MY ARMS THE DARK, a full-length collection of poems. She was the long-time editor of THE SOW’S EAR POETRY REVIEW. Her work is in journals in eight countries besides her native United States. Her newest manuscript pairs timeless voices from Torah.




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