Tonight I’m featuring another poem from Till the Tide, an anthology of mermaid poetry published by Sundress.
I really love this poem by Melissa Stein in part because of its subject matter — the potential of intimacy to create change within a person — but also because it’s a pantoum, which is one of those old forms that feels like a puzzle and a gift and a marvel of the dexterity of language and meaning all at the same time.
In case you’ve not read or written one before, a pantoum is a poem whose entire lines repeat in an interlocking pattern across quatrains, and whose final stanza overlocks back again with the first.
Little girl, your veins are showing through
your skin again. And again I will ignore it.
I will lay you down in the ordinary clover
and resume sex, our routine conspiracy.
Your skin again and again, I will ignore it—
although I can barely stand its blue-pink flush—
and resume. Sex, our routine conspiracy,
tethers me to the slim bent weed of your body
although I can barely stand. Its blue-pink flush
of fish’s gills, albino snake’s pellucid scales
tether me. To the slim bent weed of your body,
an artist might attribute the vulnerable beauty
of fish’s gills, albino snakes’ pellucid scales . . .
I am your husband. I can’t see things the way
an artist might. Attributing “a vulnerable beauty”
is like a wry poem admiring its own cleverness.
I am your husband; I can’t see things the way
I did before I knew you. Now my life
is like a wry poem: admiring its own cleverness,
it alienates the one who reads. I can’t remember what
I did before I knew you, now. My life
a deconstructed text. What’s the point of writing that
alienates the one who reads? I can’t remember. What
can save us from seeing too much?
A deconstructed text—what? Is the point of writing that
our roles are judged irrelevant? Only love
can save us from seeing. Too much
rain has filled the mossy gutters; too many hours
our roles are judged: irrelevant. Only, love
returns me to this house at night, where
rain has filled the mossy gutters. Too many hours
spent feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe
return me to this house at night, where
I’m like one treading water, mindless,
spent. Feeling thunder rattle the iron bedframe,
I mistake its tremble for my own—
I’m like one treading water, mindless
of the riptide, deadly current so strong
I mistake its tremble. For my own
long sweet strokes in the pale water
of the riptide—deadly current so strong—
pull me out to sea. And hold me
long, sweet. Stroke in the pale water
your mermaid’s flesh: you belong here tangled in sea-reeds.
Pull me out to sea and hold me,
little girl. Your veins are showing through
your mermaid’s flesh. You belong here. Tangled in sea-reeds,
I will lay you down in this extraordinary clover.
Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!
Melissa Stein is the author of the poetry collections Terrible blooms (Copper Canyon Press) and Rough Honey, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Harvard Review, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Best New Poets, and others, and she’s received awards and fellowships from the NEA, Pushcart Prize, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco. Find her online at melissastein.com.