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.
Read the Rest of the August Issue
- The Heart Sings A Siren by Ali Trotta
- A Nereid’s Guide to the Underworld by E. Catherine Tobler
- Depths by Thomas Jones
- Mammiwata Bay by David Ishaya Osu
- Only Circles in the Sea by Carlie St. George and Clare McCanna
- Twenty Thousand Last Meals on an Exploding Station by Ann LeBlanc
- An elegy for voices Ariel traded for legs by Agwam Kessington
- Dream by Mila Nowak
- mermaid life by Susmita Ramni
- Mystery of the Deep by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
- more fat mermaids by Linda M. Crate
- Waking Dream by Kim Coleman Foote
- Honey and Vinegar and Seawater by Keyan Bowes
- They Will Try to Drain You by Valerie Herron
- The Sea King’s Second Bride by C. S. E. Cooney
- Self portrait as an ocean bed by S. Rupsha Mitra
- Mami-Wata by Tony Ogunlowo
- Underwater Eclipse by Cito Wheelington
- Loving the Other: Hans Christian Andersen and the evolution of mermaid romance in Wester media by Carrie Sessarego
- What Mother Failed to Mention About Dating a Mer-Man by LindaAnn Loschiavo
- I Want to Be Where the People Are: Disability and The Shape of Water by Elsa Sjunneson
- I Am Not Your Tragedy by Carlie St. George and Clare McCanna
- Canto for a Mermaid by William Heath