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A few years ago, I wrote a short story, which was an attempt at sci-fi fantasy. It failed miserably. But I loved the world I created in the story of Asrai, a mermaid, and Blue Dog, a shape-shifting surfer (who transformed into a mackerel shark at will). I’ve played with the themes in the story and some of them roll into my poems now and then. I started a “Sea Fan Girl” series with three poems, and these are a continuation of those poems, that I’ve just written this week. These might be failed experiments, too, but a failed experiment is sometimes necessary to get to the real work. Meanwhile I’m having some formatting problems with WordPress. Blame it on the rain.  -Leah

Asrai. IV

Some nights she didn’t swim but instead just stood on Scarborough Beach
In the full moon’s glow. She’d spread out a tattered cape on the cold sand,
Nibble urchin eggs and crab legs. Dragontails of sea kelp let her arms reach
Into upper inlets of a brook, where she’d left her purse, and came to understand
That the shark she’d been watching, the mackerel shark, was him, Blue Dog,
The same surfer who stared at her red spiraling hair underwater in the waves.
She studied the tidal pools through a lens of moonbeams like a lit scope or fog
Illuminating crevices full of colorful creatures—a sea anemone, a purple urchin
Its living needles supple & working as instruments to gather food; a hermit crab
Crawled along the bottom with its house on its back. She plucked a needle from
A dead urchin and began to repair her swimsuit, which was coming undone.
It was a drab-green kelp two-piece and a very last-minute choice.

Asrai V

Her mother hunted for treasure, before her, and took Asrai on great adventures
As a mermaele, when Sedna cared for her young. That was before her mother
Joined the band of the Lock-Breakers, who mapped man-made enclosures,
Sought to break the locks, the gates and tear apart fishing nets, alluring gear.
Asrai never met her father, although she often wondered if he was a kelpie.
Something in her blood longed for wide expanses of undersea meadows
And sand bars, where she could gallop and play. Sable Island had been
A favorite vacation spot and she enjoyed watching the horses canter
Along the strange ten mile sand dune in the North Atlantic.
It was said that the Arabian horses brought to Sable Island were,
In fact, kelpies that had lost their ability to swim into the sea.
She often wondered if one of them knew her father but never asked.
If a kelpie was startled, the endangered sea horse
Might drag a mermaid to death. So, she invented stories
An imagined history of her father, the “knight,” or “victor.”
Trouble was, there wasn’t any royalty in her bloodline,
Only conspiracy-theorists.

Asrai VI

Reproductively speaking, it didn’t make sense for a mermaid to put
All her eggs in one basket. The Sea Fan King encouraged diversity
And opposed fears of intermingling between species. You could not
Discriminate in the ocean. This was deep law. Or, a deep ecology.
Over the decades, she had fallen into the bad habit of fostering certain
Stereotypes about species—including her own. Despite the deep laws,
Asrai believed that most, if not all, dolphins were date-rapists; manatees—
Too needy; sharks liked to tag-team, and seals had bad breath. Walruses
Had a reputation no mermaid wanted them to prove. Her private fantasies
Revolved around the secretive, tragic narwhals, and one who was lost.

Asrai VII

This was all funny to her until she swam past a school of hourglass dolphins,
An omen of time. Her mother had shown her how to split her tail for make-shift
“Legs,” so she could scramble onto dry land in strategic treasure hunt missions.
Islands, sand bars and coastal inlets were the best places to lift rocks and sift
Through shell middens and find buried artifacts. More recently she sought
Sunken treasures of Marie Antoinette, whose ships were sent to Maine
In preparation for her escape from France. When the queen never arrived
In Wiscasset, Maine, her ships were looted; bejeweled things and mahogany
Went overboard in scuffles. Asrai was drawn to the mystery and felt alive,
Uncovering gems in the mudflats of the Sheepscot. When she didn’t find any,
She liked to slink ashore a tiny island and collect sea glass to tide her over.
Sucking on saltgrass, she breathed in the sea wind, however uncanny,
And strummed the byssal strings of her driftwood lute, inlaid with paua
Shell, her favorite violets and teals decorated the neck, a natural beauty.

LCS

Working on a new poem. This is too long and it’s a draft. But in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I’m trying to keep up with Mike Dockins’ plan to write a bunch of poems this month. So, here goes.

                                                  Hiding Juniper

Would it be a nightmare if I dreamt
I climbed upstairs, my grandparents’
Old yellow farmhouse, where I spent
Vacations and holidays in childhood,
Played board games and invented
Some of my own; knew the secret
Hiding places: Nana’s sunny ledge
A pocket amidst the juniper hid us
She pretended to be an owl, eyes
On the birds all around her, and I,
A little fox, bounding and blonde,
Skirting the fields and meadows,
Beyond their borders into moss
Havens, emerald rock shadows.

Nana brought me on the odd errand,
Trips to the “Stump Dump,” or attic,
Crossing a stream, or walking Sally,
Their yellow lab-retriever, whose
Antics included a wide sheepish
Grin, when embarrassed, down
The Woodman Road to Uncle John’s
House. We’d push the drawbridge
Upward, to enter the attic—full of
My mother’s memories, four decades’
Worth: the Nancy Drew collection,
Paper dolls (I added to the designs),
Sewing baskets, the one scary box
With the green rubber spider mask
(The precise location of which,
I was all-too aware), and full jars:
Coveted crashed glass marbles
In a spectrum of colors I liked—
Blues, greens, pinks and purples.

Would it be a nightmare, if instead,
I mounted the stairs and found: parked
At the top, your grey Toyota 4Runner,
Its front end blocking the attic door,
My escape hatch in any dreamscape,
No matter the origin, or fear, I fled
From monsters or unknown enemies,
And found my way to Nana’s secret
Hiding places: the juniper ledge,
Mossy Stump Dump, or the attic—
Especially the attic, where she once
Described a “safe room” that Grampa
Engineered: a sliding wall, or partition,
That offered a place to hide valuables
And their children, if ever necessary.
Contrary to this, my mother told me
That I imagined this, that the hidden
Room did not exist (except in Nana’s
Over-active imagination). She and I,
Both dreamy Pisces, also both had
Mercury in quirky Aquarius, Venus
In feisty Aries and nature-loving
Earth moons. So, I don’t doubt,
Nana and I conjured safety
In the simple architecture
Of our bond, hand-in-hand,
An automatic intimacy,
Hiding in the juniper.

Would it be a nightmare, if I told you,
I was frustrated to see your silver truck
Parked in my path to the attic stair,
Something, or someone, slammed
A door downstairs, in my dream,
Your truck fit in the doorframe
Of my grandparents’ bedroom.
I could not maneuver around it.
Suddenly, I found myself running
Down the hall toward the fire
Escape, only to end up in the garage.

A young man in a plaid shirt and cap
Leaned over sundry yard equipment,
He held a weed whacker in his hands,
Examining the controls. Fearing that
He would cut off my arms with it, and
Seeing nowhere to hide, I searched
For a weapon to defend myself,
As I might in any other nightmare.

I crouched low to the concrete floor,
Studying a chainsaw that resembled
My vacuum cleaner; its cord wrapped
Around an attachment, but I trembled,
Terrified, not knowing how to wield it.
Then, jean-clad shins and hiking boots
Appeared in front of me, knobby hands
Held out at his sides, an offer? A threat?
I picked up the chainsaw and pushed
It hard into his legs out of self-defense
And ran out through the open bay,
Out onto the dirt driveway. I mapped
Diversion tactics to no avail and he
Caught me by the hand, and carried me
To the 4Runner, which was now sitting
Where it belonged, realistically.

He put me in the passenger seat.
My dream self slumped, played dead,
Like one might do with a grizzly bear,
So he’s less inclined to kill (or eat).
The dream guy steered and talked,
His voice muffled (I was dreaming)
And handed me a bag he’d packed:
My odd childish hobbies, favorites,
Heirlooms, romantic novels,
The right cosmetics.

Would it be a nightmare, or
A wonderful dream, if he were real,
If this happened, and the helpful
Man with knobby hands came
For me, and found my hiding spots,
Parked his chariot by the drawbridge,
Took the time to meander awhile
In meadows while I slunk afoot
Lichen-covered granite ledges,
A blonde fox in the juniper.

For G. 

LCS

 

This is an excerpt of a poem by Eugenio Montale (1896-1981), translated by Robert Lowell (1917-1977). Lowell’s translation has been questioned because it does not match up accurately with other more literal translations, but I think it’s the translator’s duty and, naturally Lowell’s own craft, to interpret, rather than to simply produce the literal translation. In any case, I find it lovely.

The Eel

The eel, the North Sea siren,
who leaves dead-pan Icelandic gods
and the Baltic for our Mediterranean,
our estuaries, our rivers–
who lances through their profound places,
and flinty portages, from branch to branch,
twig to twig, thinning down now,
ever snaking inward, worming
for the granite’s heartland, threading
delicate capillaries of slime–
{…}
the eel, a whipstock, a Roman candle,
love’s arrow on earth, which only
reaches the paradise of fecundity
through our gullies and fiery, charred streams;
{…}
and a tree, where my carved name quivers,
happy, humble, defeated–
or, perhaps only for the phosphorescent wake
of your almond eyes
for the craft of your alert panic
{…}
if they likened you to the blonde lioness,
to the avaricious demon of the undergrowth,
{…}
it is perhaps because the blind
have not seen the wings
on your delectable shoulder-blades
{…}
if they can only think of you
as a weasel or a woman,
with whom can I share my discovery,
where bury the gold I carry,
the red-hot pot-bellied furnace raging
inside me, when leaving me,
you turn up stairs?

****************************

Doesn’t that make you want to go for a night swim? Shiver me timbers. I do.

Under the Trestle

As kids, we tread against the tide in the Sheepscot River,
A persuasive current, funneled and slowed, cold spots
To make us shiver, kick harder, beneath the trestle bridge
Of the ol’ Downeaster railroad, where young swimmers
Like me were not supposed to go but the urge to stop
Paddling and let the undertow, take us in tow,
Irresistible, like bait to boys with fishing poles
Braver, leaping off rope swings, off ledges
At the secret swimming holes.

I was the only girl–or child–to be towed
Beneath the trestle, as if beckoned, I allowed
That blue argument of warm and cold clash
Incoming and outgoing current, ebb and flow
It suctioned and snagged ankles and torso
Rockweed whipped by like tumbleweed
Cartoon-like, or an old movie reel I’d seen
Flipping at the end, spitting “oh hang it”
Engulfed and spat out the other side
The open harbor, floating in a briny
Stew, tickled by eel grass, I’d
Resist putting my foot down
Into that muddy bed, a vast
Sheath of known daggers:
Razor-clams, mussel shells,
Long-necked clams and
Sharp-necked beer bottles,
Worse than shark-bite fears,
Shards of broken glass—
Their deep cuts stung.

And then, you were sorry.

Little Rebel at White’s Island

At night the moonlight masked the hedges
On Tucker’s Hill, a private thrill to walk
From our Victorian home to White’s Island.
I’d cross the causeway, both footbridges,
Historic railroad tracks and inhale a secret air
That only I felt could fill my strange, weak lungs
Without a jerk of hyperventilation, my Ondine’s curse.

As if I’d held my breath the swift sprint to the island,
I caught the scents of saltgrass, the mudflats and lush
Odors of the Sheepscot River and damp trees, all seven
That grew in a circle, leaning like a coven of witches.
I stood by their cauldron, a natural cavity in the earth,
Brimming and brewing some magical potion that might
Transform my old soul pre-teen self into maturity.

Poems, not spells, I cast into the water. Smooth stones, not sorcery,
Slid back and forth in my hands. I traded love letters with a boy,
Who stole down to the island to smoke cloves by the stone wall;
Cracks in the mortar of the old bathhouse facilitated delivery.
Flats crackled as the tides shifted; its ebb awakened the eel grass
And all its inhabitants in the water bed.

I played a daring barefoot game along a line of rocks, jagged
And round on the less-popular side, a pebbled beach strewn
With sea glass, not always “ready” (I returned the sharp pieces)
Broken bits of brick, cast-offs from the mason station, dead crabs.

Gramma called the big slate boulder, “Leah’s rock,”
I liked to sit there dripping in my wet bathing suit,
Let my long hair dry in the sun. Salt flaked on my skin
In glistening specks; the white of the salt clung to my ankles
Invisible socks (when I wouldn’t wear my jellies).
Water marks rimmed the rock’s edge in uneven, parallel
Stripes; they measured the tides like waistlines
On a full-figured woman. At high tide, I perched
Curved-postured, as if to dive, and dipped my fins
Into cold dark green saltwater up to my shins.

Those summer nights when I snuck down to the island
In my ripped-seated jeans and tennis sneakers,
Sitting on the rock, my little rebellion.

(a work in progress)                     ~Leah TP Subscribe

Here is my 6th poem in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. Again, I am writing 30 poems in 30 days to support (and raise funds) for the nonprofit Tupelo Press. I’m not alone; there are 8 other poets doing TP Donatethis with me. Their poetry, along with mine, can be found at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge blog page.  I have linked to some of the other poets’ WordPress blogs, too, under my blogroll and will be adding others as I get the links. Please support Tupelo Press. They are publishing a lot of good work and really depend on the generosity of readers, lovers of poets and kindred spirits.

Dream Sharks

Sharks swam below me in an army of shadows
All moving in one direction: the same one
I was swimming in the dark ocean.

I aimed my flashlight; its beam illuminated
Their silhouettes—unmistakable, these ghost predators
In hazy kelp-dappled moonlight. Our lives, semi-fated.

I saw their fins, recognizable shapes, their stout squarish
Faces, gills and the dorsal, pointing up at me. I swam
Endangered, a subconscious fear of role reversal.

I didn’t splash; I cut the water nose-first
And swam as though fish or a shark myself,
No longer shining a spotlight.

My senses led me, an internal system navigated,
Waves sped me—I felt propelled by some innate energy
Thrust through the water, half under, mostly submerged.

The flashlight, gone. But the sharks, my entourage
A night brigade guarded my belly. We smelled collectively,
The marked perfume of carnage, full-blooded.

We moved in “S” formations: synchronized as a school,
Gliding to white noise, slalom water-skiiers, snakes in a desert.
And when I woke, my skin felt cool.

I was one of them.

LCS   TP Subscribe

The Last Summer

Bent-kneed on a borrowed board, I paddled to and from Fish Rock,
Where “Leah’s ladder” still rests beside the great-hearted granite
My wanton eye on the Sand Bar, I lusted after its sinuous profile—
A throw-back to adolescence, when Grampa ferried me from the dock
To the bar; I’d be left (my wish) to prance and play Sports Illustrated
Swimsuit photo shoot in my bikini and long salt-blonde locks.

Here I was all grown, my stomach clenched, leaning like a surfer
Pushing into waves, boat wake and natural, a real temper thrust
Upon me, testing gravity, lest I get pulled as though by a killer
Whale, or tiller, but I continued to glide and guinea-pig because
I poured-over like water-in-air, downwind, a curvy figure eight.

Centered myself, a hip movement long been studied, oozed
In the language of bellydance: notably, an invisible weight
Like a pendulum, drawing a pattern from within my roots,
Chakras, the divine usage and nuance of hydromancy, a fate
Not lost on me—I loved the lake, the vibrant angle of hawks.

Heat rose off my gypsy arms, hot-blooded calves as I merged
Game-faced to mask my zeal; I assembled each funky stroke,
Hefted and carved house-sized whirlpools, tributaries surged
And stream-lined behind in a make-shifting current, a joke
In nature’s back-story, reminiscent of a bustling youth

How I came of age, skimming sandy and mudflat bottoms
Disguising an uncommon turquoise aura in a grey-green haze
In Sheepscot Bay, Little Sebago, the ocean at Pemaquid and Popham,
Body-surfing at Scarborough (or wherever we went), to taste
The lingering tidal scent of the saltmarsh on our tongues.

~Leah C. Stetson TP Subscribe

HeartShapedFaceLately I have been waking up with a poem in mind. It’s been months since this happened. Unfortunately, my spacebarisbroken. I hope I don’t become one of those dreadful streamofconsciousness poets in the process, for lackof a workingspacebar. The poem below, while it’s about a stream, is not meant to be a play on stream-of-consciousness poetry. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for a 30/30 poetry marathon that will be part of a fundraising event for Tupelo Press in California. Along with a few other poets, I will write 30 poems in 30 days. I’m flexing my metaphorical muscles now…

Tonight is the New Moon and I definitely feel like a new chapter, or verse, is about to begin.

New poem I’m working on (full poem not included):

Evolution of a Stream

Red maple leaves spin, skate and skirt
‘Round rocks like bumper cars
Hurdling down a stream
At an amusing rate.

To the casual observer, this water moves fast
Hurries over obstacles toward some indefinite
Destination. At least, this is how you see it
On the surface.

A hydrologist plots the analysis
Upon closer study, sees the millions
Of sediments of silt and sand,
Mica and minerals carried along
Curved and suspended:
They lift and settle;
They shift and settle,
Gradually shaping and
Reshaping this streambed.

{…}

                   For G.

-LCS

Nixie’s Vale ~ Lakes Region, Southern Maine

When I first bought my house in Maine, I fell in love with the land around it–just a few acres beside a pond. It seemed magical to me, something out the Chronicles of Narnia, blessed by water spirits. I named my home, Nixie’s Vale. This is what I imagined of my new surroundings.

Because a beautiful Water Nixie lived near the pond, the water was pure. The streams, wells and vernal pools nearby were also part of her domain. At only the height of a grass-blade, the little Nixie would be very hard to spot. Dressed in a light gown that veiled her fishtail, she sometimes emerged from the waters and perched herself upon the stream bank in the shady glen, where she fastened wildflowers to her spaghetti reed straps atop her shoulders, or braided her long wet hair, or coaxed wood frogs and salamanders from their winter hidey-holes. Her dark green eyes matched the reeds that held up her gown and dangled down over her lithe arms. Beneath the gown, her fish tail shimmered in pale green, gray and white scales that matched the white perch, trout and bass in the lake, and her skin was freckled with orange flecks like the pumpkinseed sunfish that danced with her in the pond. Her fingertips wove rivulets of spun water in flashes that might as well have been minnow splashing in schools.

The Nixie symbolizes the soul, femininity and rescue, as well as reinvention and reorganization. She purifies water, and in doing so, has the same effect on the spirits of all beings that come into contact with the water from her pond, streams and wells.

In an old story of one particularly disobedient water nixie, the Queen of Oceans banished the nixie to live inside a single tear. The legend says that we cry salty tears because the little disobedient sea-born nixie had lived for so long inside our tears as part of her punishment, before finally being released and allowed to live in wooded glades, streams, ancient wells and small bodies of water, never again to return to the ocean.

When one refers to a “vale of tears,” we make reference to the earthly sorrows left behind after someone enters heaven. Other definitions to follow ~

Vale. -noun. A valley. The world. A valley often coursed by a stream; a dale. Farewell. To be strong or well. Low ground, marshy meadow. “Vale of years” means old age (Othello).

“Make me a cottage in the vale.” –Tennyson. (“The Palace of Art”) Furthermore, water nixies show up in this verse from the Vale of Tempe by Madison Cawein, 1911:

“It was last Midsummer Night,
In the moon’s uncertain light,
That I stood among the flowers,
And in language unlike ours
Heard them speaking of the Pixies,
Trolls and Gnomes and Water-Nixies.”

Considering how often I meet trolls in life, I suppose it’s a good thing to have some nixie back-up. In some ways, I relate to the water nixie, a lesser-known nymph, who, upon screwing up in her former life as an ocean-dwelling mermaid, retreated inland to small bodies of water: ponds, streams, wells and pools with the job of purifying her element. Like the water nixie, I have missed the ocean, the coastal estuaries and salty rivers of my youth, especially the Sheepscot River in mid-coast Maine, Somes Sound and the rocky shores of Acadia. I am an island girl at heart and my soul has always felt freest surrounded by salt water…how could I possibly live among the lakes like landlocked salmon? It’s requiring a much longer period of adjustment than I had anticipated, but it’s not without its sense of rescue and rejuvenation.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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