Everybody’s enthralled by the mermaids, silken breasts like plums
dropped from the heaving branch and lost forever to the green sea.
Believe me I understand the attraction, having swum with several.
But what about the intrigue of man merged with fish, hard
and limber as a pike, with speed to taunt barracudas and marlins,
not to mention mermaids? We warrant no tales at all. It seems
you delve into the sea for softer things; the nets go out, the nets
come in, pulling piles onto the wet deck where half the mass
is deemed chaff and thrown back, stunned, broken-finned,
into the shark pack. Perhaps you crave the languid, the rank.
You eat canned tuna while I swim among them and smack
your lips over lobster no better than a rat. You’ll never know
the muscular tremble of a fish between the jaws, its round eye
clouding even as you shred flesh from the trellis of bone.
I’ve swum in the thrumming wakes of your ships. I’ve heard
fatuous toadies marvel at the breadth beneath their chins –
as if a bull’s strength were derived from its hide, incognizant
of a depth that could burst veins eardrums lungs should they
come even halfway inside. Clouds of shad trail these grinding boats
to feed on what you spatter from the rail. You know this,
but live in the sparseness of light and mist, learning to forget
what will happen happens has already happened down in the watery dark.
So come to the tattered froth of the shore, you who had gills once.
Watch the sea file its nails on the sand. Discuss the terrible force
of this pedestrian act. Murmur to your children of manatees adorned in kelp
and the sailors who mistook their bulk for the lithe lines of mermaids.
Keep your legends. They suit you who live only on the surface of things,
who’ve never felt a flutter in the spine when shark fins cut the water.
The snow on the house is blue in the moonlight, the trees naked and black. He steps slowly along the pitched peak of the roof, one foot straddling either sloping side, until his trembling hand grasps the chimney and the wire of his posture goes slack.
His coat comes off, exposing sagging flesh. He has a slightly dented chest and roping white arms that circle back, his long fingers searching the hollow between his shoulder blades. He probes the folded place where his wings are furled.
They are not metaphor – just strange, tired flesh drawn into the cold. He unfolds them carefully, like a letter pulled from a rummage-sale couch. His back quakes as they extend creakily, muttering as his knees do in the morning, and he soundlessly spreads them to dry in the warm smell of wood smoke rising.
A million capillaries trace the map of flight. His overlarge heart diverts its dark flow to thicken the wings. His chest x-ray stunned the radiologist when he battled bronchitis last year, an astonishment that served as catalyst for an unfortunate chain of events.
The wings tug like a kite, now. They nose the air like a tethered pony. The old man wraps a scarf around his neck, then crisscrosses another over his torso.
When he drags himself into the impossibly clear night, heading south, it is still a surprise. He does not fly easily. Instead, he crawls upward, scrabbling and frog-kicking like a swimming boy.
A Whole New Vida
The limits of my language
are the limits of my world.
It would probably be a good idea
before we go much further
to inform you that I’m learning to speak another language.
Palabras just keep leaking in,
almost without my noticing,
because I’ve become so deeply immersed in the process of acquiring this new lengua.
My familia are hinting intimations
that I’m starting to become a little
latoso, not to mention aburrido, but I’m dedicated to approaching it
almost como una practica religiosa,
which I enter, as I would a church,
wearing clean and well-pressed clothing, and an aspect of great focus and disciplina,
As you may have noticed
from the idle word that has
in all likelihood drifted into these lines like an ava through the window,
my accent is devastatingly good,
and in the streets I will admit
that there are times when I am mistaken for a Canadian, or even a Belgian.
Yes, it makes almost three months
since that I have studied the Spanish,
and this now has produced in me and my vida an almost meditative calm, una calma
that I attribute to my practice –
because, like a monk buddhista,
I am eternally aqui in the time of the presente – the past and the futura
don’t fully exist for me –
they remain a blank and
unconjugated space, where the tired poetry of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
is replaced with the rhythm
of ahora, y ahora, y ahora,
and I wake every mañana to enter the day fresh, breakfast myself with a new tongue,
and look through the windows to a changed vista and correctly announce: There is sun.
About the author
Michael Bazzett’s fifth book of poems, The Echo Chamber, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2021. His work has appeared in The American Poetry…Read the full bio
Issue 08 · February 2010
Table of contents
- From the editors
- Lisbon Holds a Prisoner One Night
- Postcard from Texas
- Four poems by Mahogany L. Browne
- Three Poems by Michael Bazzett
- Travelling Long to Inform a Friend’s Death
- Train Ride to Zagreb
- Two poems by Stephen Bunch
- Gavage (and the Stress of Flying These Days)
- Two Poems by Jon Sands
- Two poems by Neil McCarthy
- Two poems by Sue Burge
- Summer is
- Two poems by Sheila Wild
- Two poems by Susanna Rich
- Postcard Prose
- Travel Notes