“We spoke of those magic summer nights, looking out over the gulf of Castellammare, when the stars are mirrored in the sleeping sea, and how, lying on your back among the mastic trees, your spirit is lost in the whirling heavens, while the body braces itself, fearing the approach of demons.” ~ Giuseppe di Lampedusa, from “The Professor and the Siren”
Two for Tuesday: Mermaids
Tuesday afternoon. Humid with impending storms, 82 degrees.
A bit of serendipity today: read an essay in The Paris Review by Marina Warner called “The Professor and the Mermaid,” and then came upon a poem by Pablo Neruda that I had never seen before. Love when things like this happen.
Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks
All those men were there inside,
when she came in totally naked.
They had been drinking: they began to spit.
Newly come from the river, she knew nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The insults flowed down her gleaming flesh.
Obscenities drowned her golden breasts.
Not knowing tears, she did not weep tears.
Not knowing clothes, she did not have clothes.
They blackened her with burnt corks and cigarette stubs,
and rolled around laughing on the tavern floor.
She did not speak because she had no speech.
Her eyes were the colour of distant love,
her twin arms were made of white topaz.
Her lips moved, silent, in a coral light,
and suddenly she went out by that door.
Entering the river she was cleaned,
shining like a white stone in the rain,
and without looking back she swam again
swam towards emptiness, swam towards death.
~ Pablo Neruda
for Aya at fifteen
Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love’s hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
~ Kim Addonizio
Music by Jon Allen, featuring Amy Smith, “When the Morning Comes”