What I think about this Mermaid is, she
started joyful, deeped in sea with no edge
but the yes-no of brine and salty air
where, heads and tails with seals and whales, she liked
to breath. No need for baths and keeping clean,
wave-churn her every-way-up ecstasy;
no need to hunt and eat and defecate,
with fluid random chaos all around.
Who buys a house on the edge of a cliff?
An optimist, to look down at the sea,
and send a biased hope out past the edge
of expensive luck to net in treasure
or cuttlefish bones, plastic rubbish, or –
the mermaid. Who soon swallowed that person
whole, for the delicious beauty of their
soul. If you can imagine a mermaid,
(or indeed a soul) then imagine her
turned up at that cliff house where good luck ends,
as she pulls herself onto her ripped tail,
becomes needy. Eats, drinks. Is solid.
There is no fun in living alone with
happiness a forgotten condition.
She did as people must, and went inland
to the City, quietly found a career
in sushi – she had a talent for it
plus a hint of oriental glamour
employers found convincing. Then she moved
to TV. I’m sure you must have seen her,
smiling, perfect in ethereal waves,
distant from us now as she ever was,
while we fool ourselves that we can follow
across some cliff-edge into her perfection.
© Diana Reed
I do not wish you harm.
Your kind don’t scare me. I like
your constant watch for food
that I name flies; your tactful discretion
shown in a quickness to run and hide.
Most, your incapacity to do me harm.
But tip to tip you were more than finger-length.
Your fine brown legs formed spokes of a wheel
spread out from a brown, bunched hub.
You rested lightly across the corn yellow ripples
of the wallpaper, on the stair from bed to breakfast.
You slept – if spiders sleep – without breath or movement.
Silent, passive, you suddenly struck at my awareness.
And if mine, then others. One whose sensitivities
I have woven into a shirt of consideration
I wear day and night. One I instinctively protect.
A tumbler and some paper – that’s the routine.
But you needed a pint glass to span those fragile legs
and provide a deep well to hold you secure.
I stalked you quietly. You gave me no sign.
I moved. You jumped. Then
my choices changed. You, leg caught, limb-tip crushed,
scrabbling wildly, then freed outside to limp away.
Or repulsion and fear, left waiting in ambush for
a person I care perhaps too much about.
I felt quick pity, but you are so slight,
and there are so many of you. I estimated
your weight in my Felicific Calculus
to be approaching zero, and slammed down
the glass with its blunt guillotine edge.
Then closed it with card, brought it up straight.
You fell. Your legs angled round your body.
Circumference lost, symmetry destroyed.
Worse, you did not move. A drop of water,
clinging to the glass, half-shrouded you.
I tipped you out in the garden’s wildest corner,
where perhaps you moved, but I lost track.
© Diana Reed
Answering the ghost
In May I mowed widdershins from the centre of the lawn,
spiralling loops out to the edge of its roundness.
(I’d given up straight lines for lent, and quite forgot,
when the spring came, to pull myself in tight again.)
Your ghost curved back to this place, new bride from a new house,
starting a new century; your coffin carried out fifty years later.
I wasn’t afraid. You were pretty then, and harmless now,
But I didn’t like you shaking your bony finger, telling me off.
‘Over there’s the best for roses’, you said, ‘to catch the morning sun.’
‘This lawn’s more moss than grass. Try chamomile.’
‘The apple tree on the lower lawn, when was it last cut back?’
‘Don’t you realise the rockery’s there to display my alpines?’
Old ghost, shake your green fingers fierce as you please!
I don’t care that grass clumps between your troll-tooth boulders.
It wasn’t us built the kitchen over the rose-bed;
your ferns at least stand loyal, crowding the ancient elder.
Now autumn’s heavy moon comes to weigh down my heart
and the shortening days will drive me back indoors.
Before then I’ll wipe slugs off the windfalls, make apple pie,
and let my mower scrawl clockwise rings on the lawn.
© Diana Reed
A black silhouette on the slick slate-grey mud
clicks into recognition, where low tide
has pulled back like a hood to show the river’s scalp,
half-covered by lank streams, imperfectly plaited
over slate-dark mud.
The river must long for full tide and the salt sea
to cover its worn embarrassment, its ugly
scars and pock-marks of bird-hop, sea-worm.
It’s neither one thing nor the other; a chimaera
of land and water.
Twice a day, the exposed feeding ground draws
such as this delicate, dark thing, with legs like a
breeding of spider and bicycle as it moves smoothly,
lightly, over the surface. The name’s in my mind,
but I can’t find it.
Long neck and bill, unhurried, tip and dip,
into grey, yielding mud. Its being is
inevitable as ants, as sex, as evolution;
mechanical as the triggering of the mental lexicon
that at last
the dark gestalt;
© Diana Reed