The Objectified Mermaid

The photographer has been treating her like a spork all morning. “Wistful mouth, excited tail! Work it, work it!” He has no idea that even fake smiling spreads to her eyes and her tail and there’s nothing she can do about it short of severing her spine. Without asking, the assistant re-sprays her with glycerine. It’s gonna be hell getting all that grease off her scales tonight but she can’t scum up her tank at the bar—its weekly cleanings seem more like monthly these days, and fewer and fewer patrons have been inviting (read: paying) her for a Tankside Mertini and quick feel of her tail. There’s one regular who lapses in and out of consciousness and he’s the real reason she stays. Every once in a while he seems to have forgotten where he is and he looks at her with the kind of wonder she imagines her grandmother inspired when she first risked coming ashore. After an hour under the studio spotlights, she’s starting to smell pretty fishy. Can’t blame it (as she has before) on her standard seaweed bra because this fool of a photographer has her holding two clear fishbowls in front of her breasts so it looks like goldfish are swimming past her nipples. She’s supposed to pretend it tickles. She wants to ask if he’s heard the phrase "gilding the lily" which she recently learned at Land Berlitz. When asked if she’s tired, she lies. A downward spiral means the opposite up here.

About this poem:
"This is the last in a series of nine mermaid prose poems I've written. Because of the first poem, I was invited to Mercon 2011, the first international mermaid gathering, held in Las Vegas. 'The Objectified Mermaid' was inspired by the constant photographing of the girls and women in glittery tails (I was photographing them too). Mermen were few—one Neptune and just a handful of others."

Matthea Harvey

Copyright © 2013 by Matthea Harvey. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 25, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.