Waking Dream

by Kim Coleman Foote

This poem originally appeared in Black Mermaids: In Vision and Verse, the catalog for the City Gallery at Waterfront Park exhibition, “Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore.”

Umbrella, you shelter me from prying eyes. Metal spines arcing in claws. You shade me, erase me, make me float in the sea of a parade: the busyness of bodies in Union Square.

Then you are upside down, bobbing atop murky Hudson water, drifting towards the Atlantic. I stand shakily upon your seams, praying you’re indeed waterproof and won’t rip from my weight.

Weight dragging me to the bed of the sea where shadows reach. And further still, where unnamed beings glow, phosphorescent. Some greet me in their own way: mouths bulging, or blowing bubbles where there are no mouths. Others spew ink that seeps into my pores—a warning to retreat.

I’m afraid I’ve never learned to swim.

Until my legs fuse into a fin with indigo scales, my feet an udder. Slipping through opaque salt. The current pushing me higher, where there is light—a sun under water, its beams splayed by rippling waves.

My hair breaks surface. Heat crinkles my curls into ringlets carrying magic. I taste salt in the breeze. Sense the banana boat before my eyes do.

They watch me in wonder, these men who make me wonder as well—NYC tourists long lost and forgotten, with scraggly beards and dirty shorts. Hair on their chests. Hunger in their eyes. Have they never seen breasts?

They gasp as I flip, arc my behind, wave my fin. Dolphin-like. Dodge the spears they throw. Catch them like Zeus does lightning bolts. Crack them between my teeth, harder than diamonds.

I bewilder them. Make them shiver not from desire but from fear. Dare them to enter my ocean.

It’s only salt, I tell them. Salt and H20. Gives you all you need.

We grow fins if we want to. We don’t have to extinguish our lives adrift on boats, lost at sea, letting the wind take us where it pleases. Be your own captain—jump. Let me take you to the deep dark blue where the creatures speak, so like me, you can birth yourself anew.

in honor of Mami Wata, Erzulie, Yemaya, and all other Sirens

© Copyright Kim Coleman Foote


Kim Coleman Foote is the 2021-22 George Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy and the recipient of several other writing fellowships, including from MacDowell, the NEA, NYFA, Center for Fiction, and Illinois Arts Council. Her fiction, essays, and experimental prose are forthcoming or have appeared in The Rumpus, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a story collection fictionalizing her family’s experience of the Great Migration in the South and New Jersey, and a novel about Ghana and the trans­-Atlantic slave trade. She received an MFA in creative writing from Chicago State University.


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