The Objectified Mermaid

Matthea Harvey - 1973-

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

More by Matthea Harvey

Introduction to the World

For the time being
call me Home.

All the ingénues do.

Units are the engines
I understand best.

One betrayal, two.
Merrily, merrily, merrily.

Define hope.	 Machine.
Define machine.  Nope.

Like thoughts,
the geniuses race through.

If you're lucky

after a number of
revolutions, you'll

feel something catch.

I May After Leaving You Walk Quickly or Even Run

Rain fell in a post-romantic way.
Heads in the planets, toes tucked

under carpets, that’s how we got our bodies
through. The translator made the sign

for twenty horses backing away from
a lump of sugar. Yes, you.

When I said did you want me
I meant me in the general sense.

The drink we drank was cordial.
In a spoon, the ceiling fan whirled.

The Old World smoked in the fireplace.
Glum was the woman in the ostrich feather hat.

The Backyard Mermaid

The Backyard Mermaid slumps across the birdbath, tired of fighting birds for seeds and lard. She hates those fluffed-up feathery fish imitations, but her hatred of the cat goes fathoms deeper. That beast is always twining about her tail, looking to take a little nip of what it considers a giant fish. Its breath smells of possible friends. She collects every baseball or tennis ball that flies into her domain to throw at the creature, but it advances undeterred, even purring. To add further insult to injury it has a proper name, Furball, stamped on a silver tag on its collar. She didn't even know she had a name until one day she heard the human explaining to another one, "Oh that's just the backyard mermaid." Backyard Mermaid she murmured, as if in prayer. On days when there's no sprinkler to comb through her curls, no rain pouring in glorious torrents from the gutters, no dew in the grass for her to nuzzle with her nose, not even a mud puddle in the kiddie pool, she wonders how much longer she can bear this life. The front yard thud of the newspaper every morning. Singing songs to the unresponsive push mower in the garage. Wriggling under fence after fence to reach the house four down which has an aquarium in the back window. She wants to get lost in that sad glowing square of blue. Don't you?

Related Poems

The Anxiety of Coincidence

Your object will have made a good subject
and I should get to tell you so: the bird 
with a beak but no mouth, we hear him only

when it's night in the Dominican Republic
and Israel at the same time. Someone will 
find your marginalia useful, so try to spare

some ink. I took dictation only from you, 
for whom verbs were nothing and tense 
everything. See the difference, you kept asking, 

but it wasn't a question. See how enormous—
camel hauling an empty wheelchair, conspiracy 
of hangman men, dried-out song that makes

it snow. You realize we could have walked 
home in the hours taking inventory took, jack
of no traits.  Bird with no wings.