Mermaid on a Rock
Robin Dawn Hudechek
The mermaid sits on the rock, her hair tangled and
seaweed slick, curling on sunburnt shoulders.
A snap of wind becomes a cross, unfurling above her,
a slash of black on white like the garments
she had seen on men from other ships;
shirts billowing above bloated bodies and unseeing eyes,
the roar of many fires all around her.
But this one is different, she tells herself:
The men will come, eat her shellfish and listen to her songs,
catch her brightness in the glare of their metal helmets
as they shout, teasing her off the rock,
into the thread of the net,
lulling her with sweet breathy voices
that do not throb of coral wreaths
and schools of goldfish streaming upward
in a line that pulses.
This is the only gold she knows, she could tell them,
But they will not hear.
Her lips part, bloodied with the wetness of the sun.
Her arms cross over her breasts, some small part of her
much younger, much shier, seeking shelter from their eyes.
All the while the net nears, clutched in their gnarled hands.
Even from a distance she can see their scars:
a knife wound over one sailor’s eyes,
the clump of another’s hand, missing two fingers.
Look away, she tells herself. Dive back into the water.
Boats like these are a time warp
There are no days, months, years—
only the husks of ships on the ocean floor, arrogance spent.
But she is mesmerized by the flap of the sails, the bawdy music–
boots thumping on hard, salty decks
so unlike her own world, her skin,
bone white against a glimmering tail,
jeweled scales a prism, bending color like water.
Her arm lifts and she sees
the net breaking the sky, rocks and ocean
into tight square pieces,
the net that will press her face and twine into her arms,
hair floating above her, her face inches
from the waves slapping against the barnacled boat.
Her fingers find these last shells
on the underbelly of the ship,
and touch them in benediction, as her body is pulled upward
and water pours from the net back into the sea.
Robin Dawn Hudechek received her MFA in creative writing from UCI. She has two chapbooks: Ghost Walk, The Inevitable Press, 1997, and Ice Angels, published in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks, Silver Birch Press, October, 2015. Robin lives in Laguna Beach, CA with her husband, Manny and two beautiful cats.