Mermaid Indoors

Basil du Toit

29 April 2022
Rural view of the Galloway Hills. A ploughed field with green fields and the hills in the distance. Trees and hedgerows with a few houses. Cumulus clouds in a blue sky.


The human had unsettled her – his
breathing difficulties underwater,
the puckering of his fingertips,
stinging of his eyes, the raw fish diet
that didn't agree with his stomach.

Now, she was sitting in his house,
smelling like a shoreline that has
been baked rancid in the low tide,
the great flail of her tail-fin curled
awkwardly backwards out of sight.

Her body spread the coldness of
iceboxes or shipping containers;
elements of salt and ammonia
composed her presence, the rank
mephitic odour of a dying fish.

Her gaze was fixed and ankylose,
stiff cellulose, unblinking, bare,
hardened by the eye-withering
sharpness of ocean saltiness;
blue scales speckled the carpet.

She spoke with the sadness of
a sea animal which has laboriously
learnt the one-sided language
of men, incapable of addressing
the alien, disfigured half of her.

She spoke of dualities – natural
and supernatural, middle class
and beatnik, two circulations
(one where the blood ran cold)
mingling fish and mammal.

She exclaimed her wonderment
at soft warm towels, humidifiers
and scented candles from John
Lewis; but mostly she spoke of
that world given up to satisfy

her keen, occasional taste for men –
shoals of bonefish and barracuda,
the perils of propeller injuries
and dredge fishing, dark realms
of maelstrom, wreck and kraken;

and she kept coming back to
that bathroom of his, fragranced
by rosemary and eucalyptus,
with the curved slipper bath
that was far too small to hold her.

Wigtown Poetry Prize 2022 is live and accepting entries of poems from across the world. If you have some poetry that you would like to enter, please visit the Poetry Prize Website

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