“Mermaid,” by Neil Fulwood

Aug 20th, 2021 | By | Category: Poetry


First time I saw you, I was at the wheel
of a powerboat, bone-rattle slamming
over the roiling waves. I was decked out
in rubber suit, goggles, breathing
apparatus. The full man-of-action kit.
I was pumped up, ready to dive, emerge,
scramble over rocks, haul myself
through crevices and up gradients,
basically the whole Milk Tray scenario.

You appraised me from a promontory
by the lighthouse, tail scooping
a dull slop of sea water to fling
in my wake. Your way of saying, accurately
it turned out, that you didn’t rate my chances.


Months later. Me with my tourist funk on
at the aquarium. I could have been there
for any reason: surveillance, covert ops,
bunking off the convention for an hour,
tired of the other telemarketers
and their talk of talk and targets. I could
have been up to anything: brouhaha,
shenanigans, shits and giggles.
The glossy colour brochure was merely a prop.

I thought I saw you reflected in curved glass
reflecting off other glass where lights
and distortion and people reflected
from other parts of the aquarium made it hard
to be sure. I looked again and you were gone.


I stood where I might have said that surf
creamed the edges but I think
that would be ripping off Plath. So let’s just say
I stood at some coastal outreach reading aloud
Robert Lowell’s sequence about the mermaid,
my shot at conjuration. Ineffective
as it transpired. I slid the book back in my rucksack,
not that sliding and the 1186 pages
of Lowell’s Collected may be said to accord.

I heard it as I turned to go, your voice
borne on the salt spray of the sea,
yearning for something more picturesque,
the waters off beautiful blue Nauset.
I should have stuck with Plath after all.


Now I’m writing poems, letters, transcribing
scraps of diary entries onto the back
of admiralty charts torn into small squares.
I’m thinking of straits, capes, bays,
shipping lanes. How should I send them,
these envelopes I’ve addressed to
Sirène, La Mer … Meerjungfrau, das Meer
(to use the English would be prosaic):
should I entrust them to some old sea dog

on a container ship, politely request
of a cruise-liner steward their kind assistance?
Or take myself down to the shoreline, stand
where the surf creams the edges
and let the wind hasten them to the waves.


Neil Fulwood was born in Nottingham, England, where he still lives and works. He has two collections out with Shoestring Press: No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere. His new collection, Service Cancelled, is out now.

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