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
like a ship's hull at the bottom of dark and lonely depths. I could have
told her how the longing for him clings to me still. But then,
she would have been too young, too certain of her own heart to listen.
She often visits me in the shape of a mist. Her whisper in my ear
like the whistle of wind through through the stones and across the cliffs,
her touch light as a kiss of sea spray. Though in my old age,
I have come to accept her specter, her continued blame, her haunting
as a comfort, I tell her she doesn't need to prove herself. Spirit exists
within everything; she always had a soul (no matter what
her grandmother said). She can move on, I tell her, to wherever
the soul moves on to; she can ascend anytime she wishes.
But she is still too young to listen.
I do not tell her that, for my part, I wish for no eternity.
I wish only to leave this life and be without memory,
simply return to the sea, perhaps, as a mermaid would,
melt into the water and foam that has nourished me,
given me power. I wish to become a part of the give and take,
a part of the ebb and flow of wave and current, become
a vital, violent force, a calm breeze, a savage storm,
become merely a quiet and changeable cacophony of nature.
Note: A slightly edited version was first published at Linden Avenue, Issue Thirteen, June 1, 2013, www.lindenavelit.com.