I have to admit, I like to watch baseball. The rules, the power and agility of the athletes, even the superstitions are multi-layered. It was baseball, spring training, and watching all those fine athletes that took me to Clearwater Beach, Florida the end of February. Well, it was the warm weather and the beaches, too. But in the end, it was a mermaid whom I carried home in my thoughts.
The mermaid lay on the beach
on her side, her chevron tail
as wide as a row boat, her fish knees
flexed and her back arched slightly
with one hand resting on her stomach,
the other buried in the sand. And yes,
her breasts exposed and just the right
size and shape. Her hair was a splay
of rays emanating from her head.
She stared into the sky with blank eyes.
My husband and I, out for an evening stroll,
almost walked past her, but stopped
a few feet from the tip of her fin,
not sure at first at what we were looking,
not sure if we were allowed to look.
We hesitated for just a moment, then
simultaneously and together, advanced
along the side of her, stopping to face
her at the shoulder. “How beautiful she is,”
one of us said. “She’s perfect,” said the other.
I made him take a photo of her, first
from the front side and then, discovering
her muscled, rounded backside, a photo
from that angle. Small fissures spread
across her hip. How much longer
could she last? How the sand must have
rubbed her delicate skin, how the fin
must have itched. I wanted to lift her
under the armpits and drag her back
into the water to save her. But I was afraid
of drowning, have been since I was five,
from swimming lessons where I had to dip
my face into a chemicaled pool. I still can’t
imagine the power of breathing under water,
or the confinement of legs fused together,
unable to run if stranded on land. There are
no mysteries of the sea in an Iowa lake,
where a man drowned when I was the age
of a mermaid. I sat on the porch as he called
over and over for help, just before dawn.
(This will be a brief discussion that I will update soon. I am in Boston, away from my resources that I would like to use, especially the notes that I took from a workshop given on endings by Pulitzer Prize winner, Stephen Dunn during my residency in Dingle, Ireland).
There is a lot to write about regarding the ending of a poem. I had no idea that this poem would take me where it did and yet through the process of drafting and revising this piece, I conjured up a memory long forgotten, one that – for one thing – reminds me of how powerless we are at times. I had forgotten about that night in Storm Lake, Iowa, decades ago, when a man went out in a boat on a hot steamy night. One of my brothers woke first to his calls, then my sister, and then me. By the time I was outside sitting on the front steps, the rescue crew was out on the water, yet they couldn’t save him.
One of the difficulties I have with my poems is the ending. I tend to not “write it out,” to not write further in order to experience where the poem might take me. Perhaps due to laziness but more likely due to impatience, I tend to wrap it up too early or too neatly or want the control that comes with explaining the meaning instead of trusting the reader to think for him or herself. Continuing the poem beyond the first inclinations to stop is where many of the revelations occur, where surprises pop up, where the “click” happens that Frost explained in his interview for The Paris Review, (Summer-Fall, No. 24): “All thought is a feat of association: having what’s in front of you bring up something in your mind that you almost didn’t know you knew. Putting this and that together. That click.” Often it is difficult to write long enough and revise enough to get that click. But what a sweet sound when it comes.
Side note: I only read this interview’s of Frost in The Paris Review for the first time last night. Before then, I had never heard about Frost talking about this click. The use of that word, “click” as the last word in my poem “Violins and Apple Trees” is a coincidence. I love it when that happens.
RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, etc.):
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act 2, Scene 1
Decima – I had no idea this form existed. I wish I could say that I had planned the 10 lines out in “Asea,” but stanzas more or less fell that way, so I went with it. But in looking up poems with 10 lines in each stanza, I learned of the Decima, a Latin-American form with 10 lines and particular rhyming pattern in each stanza and 8 syllables per line. Here is another link: Rules of the Decima. And for your viewing pleasure: