Galatea’s Double-Vision; Aphrodite Takes the First Round; The Whaler’s Mermaid
By: Stella Saalman
It’s been a very long time
since I’ve been this drunk.
There are two of me, or maybe three;
maybe more. I laugh, and thousands laugh back at me;
Raphaels and Redons, all will do,
my ego is enormous after a three-coffee afternoon—don’t take my advice,
these are exclusively bad decisions.
I cut the words out of each memory,
thinking maybe if I carve enough out
the statue left behind will be small enough for me to crawl out from.
I bend, and one bone scrapes against another,
raising my hopes like a boxer and his fists.
My teeth grind gravel—it’s always stones with me,
metamorphosis after metamorphosis,
stones and poems a bleak pair.
The sun hits me but its warmth never quite reaches inside of my skin.
It’s the same with men.
The work of the giant and the shepherd and the sculptor all ends
with my body on the floor.
No Women of Amphissa to pick me up, I rise alone
and always ask for more.
I chafe under their constraints. I struggle,
and I am free.
We’re all different women, the ones they dream up of me,
and me—it’s important to remember that the one thing we have in common
is that none of us are real. They have their uses though,
the skins I shed as I step in the door,
setting down everything they’ve done and the weight I haven’t asked to carry.
Where do you put it down? In each new grave you dig,
with the women who have ceased to exist.
They’ll never figure out the trick of it,
we all appear the same to them with the same name or not.
It’s always the marble-smooth milk-white skin that begs for marring—the perfect woman
for them. One whose body never shows a bruise.
Always a glorious painted face, entreats a man to capture it for eternity:
still mine’s the less famous name.
They can’t break the unbreakable, so they figure; there’s no chiseling blood from a stone.
The perfect crime is one without evidence, and the perfect woman will never be believed:
they’ve named a self-fulfilling prophecy after me.
Aphrodite Takes the First Round
Oh, I’m not for you, I tell him as I laugh, turning back to my dessert.
He says, Dear, let’s be plain with things, because he gets what he wants.
You ever murdered a man in front of his mother?
I’m not much one for chasing—Little Miss Impossible to Impress
is much more my speed. He doesn’t take to this well, seeing
as he’s never met a bird whose nest he can’t buy or lie his way into.
My father is here, and his, and he stares as his own mother
deals him a fatal blow. A word to the wise: women aren’t regularly enticed
by tales of the false identities you give to other women.
I win this skirmish: it wasn’t much of a fight with this hair, and this dress I wore to impress
his mother. He hadn’t thought to find an attractive woman in his kitchen today,
which I can’t take credit for; though I’ll certainly be claiming this laughter at his expense.
He looks the petulant son, having refused
my presence, kept his dog’s company upstairs until he was heading out the door.
He’s running late now—I enjoy life’s little inconveniences when I’m the one causing the chaos.
He intruded on my lunch, I’ll remind you—and a woman needs to eat.
But this appetite of mine cannot be sustained—I don’t bother with waiting before a bite—
eventually, we all are full. I hardly spare him a wave on his way out the door.
We know we’ll both be back for more; a little humiliation never impeded
a sharp sword’s prick. He’s after a tussle, and what’s in it for me?
I rose from the foam atop thrusting waves—bored of only churning where the seas meet.
The Whaler’s Mermaid
The selkies had it right:
too often we get caught
up in the meaning of it;
cruelty never spares a thought
in this direction, never needs a reason
in the way those it breaks always do.
The net needs no greater purpose;
the dry call its catches lucky,
while those it snares cry out over their misfortune.
Unhook the metal in your cheek
and do not philosophize over the blood
trailing in the water—searching
for justification in calamity’s postmortem
is a fool’s errand.
If the violence were justified,
you’d know the why of it
before the pain ever came your way.
They clamber on rocks, singing songs
to the spray of the sea,
recalling the hard timber of the deck as their tails flopped
and the foreign groans as men hauled their sisters in.
Man becoming muse, flying knuckles turned soaring notes—the hymn condemns
yet the scars still pucker.
I turn my back, scales flashing in the sun,
glare at the sky as I swim for cooler waters. I will not air my quarrels—
the sway of sails is determined by impartial winds.
Though I do not wish it on them, the second encounter
with the same maelstrom
is the one that imparts the lesson:
Turning shrieks to song will not soothe the ear
of the sailor determined to skin you;
Cutting meaning from your own decaying flesh
will not placate the palate that hungers for a sacrificial feast.
Stella Saalman is a writer from the Midwest, and hold an MA in Art History. Her poems have been published in several print publications, most recently appearing in The Albion Review.