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Self-Portrait as Mermaid or Dead Girl photo

for M

In the beginning there was only the girl
and the ocean. Someone was telling a story; 

in the story a girl’s friend died, an accident, 
so she walked into the sea, breathed in 

so much water she grew gills, drowned 
in so much shadow she sprouted scales.

My friend died at fifteen. Car crash. 
Reading palms, I’d promised us

everything: children, hope, life eternal, 
et cetera. I’ll shipwreck a future

on my shore. I’ll give my vertebra
to forget.

She loved cartography, not the land part
but the oceans, and so when she was gone 

I stood for hours at the sea, thrashed
for her in the deep end of my shadow. 

I peel this story from my body, 
hang it up to dry.

A mermaid is a girl willing herself
from her body. My breath 

rusts. I smile at parties, write poems
about sunshine. Memory is about the body, 

not the past. I am someone’s quiet, 
beautiful thing. 

The girl in the story is gorgeous
and so in love with the past she’ll die

for it. Her tail graceful in someone else’s 
legend. She splits her spine,

turns her name to sand. Somewhere,
she is singing: not a funeral song, but a lullaby.

My wounds leak,
unseam. I am a body revised: 

all throat and no scream. Girl, did you lose 
your vertebra first? your toes? Tell me:

how many years was it
until the water felt like home?


image: Aaron Burch