The Sea Witch
My home is made of drift wood, planks discarded from scuttled
ships, torn canvass and tarp, blue and green glass bottles,
fishing net, twine, bits and baubles — the sea provides
just about anything you need, cast off refuse scoured
by brine and time, to arrive clean on the sandy shore.
I've made a living of other people's longing. From above and below
the undulating line of the sea, they come bearing the weight
of their desire, hands cupped like seashells to be filled —
I give them a pouch of sea salt to ward off storms, a stone
hollowed out by water and blessed for luck, a charm to garner a kiss
from the one you love, a rope with three knots (the first when pulled
yields a gentle wind, two more untied offer a strong wind),
or perhaps a shift of self, a switch from fin to human legs.
I take the ocean's offerings and shape spells
from seaweed, sand, jelly tentacle, fish scale and bone,
churn them together within abalone shell, make of them
a gift, an incantation, a stroke of fortune — magic captured and tamed.
Honestly, it's the believing that does the trick, all my gestures
and humming and mixing and spinning just a show far less powerful
than their faith lying open, fragile and poisonous as an anemone's
drifting fronds, collapsing in on itself at the slightest touch of doubt.
I am haunted by memory, so many regrets eroding the joy
of passing days as the waves erase and reshape the shore,
not the least my granting of a mermaid's wish. I warned her
of the pain that would mark each step, the insistent reminder
of what she once was forever stabing like knives, pins, needles,
sharp in the soles of her feet. I warned her that change is one directional—
we can never go back to what we were, we can only be what we are,
and mermaids reshaped into humans will forever be barred from the sea.
But I never warned her about love, how it is changeable as tides
under the moon's sway. I could have told her of my own broken heart,
how I once took a merman into my arms, how his iridescent fins flashed,
twisted about my feet in the rolling foam of waves licking our bodies,
his scaled chest rasping against mine as we tasted the salt of each other.
I could have warned her that love — however true we imagine it to be —
always comes to an end, that she could not trust in the lust
of sailor, soldiers, princes, or men, that the cavern left in the wake of love,
now gone, aches so deep, it is as though your very bones are crushed