MY LADY MERMAID by Rebecca R. Pierce
based on “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson.
My Lady Mermaid stayed
On the edge of her stone throne
Wishing, wanting for someone to call her own.
All the sunken treasure and gold
Brought no pleasure, I’m told.
Her lips, a pale hunger for a certain bliss,
Sure to be cured by way of kiss.
My Lady Mermaid, must it come to this?
Of all the joys of the sea,
She wished to know of captivity.
And the moon overhead was taunting
The wishing and the wanting.
Her eyes were altogether too haunting.
She turned her head to look away,
But this was what the moon had to say,
“I know where your lover is, I know where he can be found.
I know where your lover is—Fate will have him drowned.”
The sea came alive where once waves were dead,
And the sky crackled fire—suddenly—overhead
To reveal a ship sailing up ahead,
That, tempest tossed, broke like bread.
And My Lady Mermaid remembered what the moon had said.
My Lady Mermaid should not have stayed,
But by trick of light, she was betrayed.
For it was too late—she saw his face
And in that moment, her heart was placed
Upon that ship about to perish
With all her heart could possibly cherish.
My Lady Mermaid should not have gone,
But the voice in her heart forced her on.
My Lady Mermaid flew from her throne
Though the sea clawed like a beast at her bones,
And she uttered a cry, “Leave me alone!”
Her every muscle and limb was wrought through with fire
Yet on she strove to reach her heart’s desire.
The sea threatened to pull her apart,
But the pain in her body lost to the pain in her heart.
The sea was angry, for this man belonged to her.
And she roared up a mountain—the sky became a blur.
The wave did not break, but tall it stood.
Though the mermaid tried to reach him, it did no good.
The wave looked like a dark, towering altar.
But My Lady Mermaid did not falter.
So, My Lady’s Love was taken out of reach,
And in her desperation, she beseeched.
“O Mighty Sea, hear my cry:
Do not let this one man die.
I cannot bear to see him dead.
Mighty Sea…take my life instead.”
Slowly, the wave descended.
Could it be that’s tragedy’s ended?
My Lady Mermaid—her eyes—she could not believe.
She dared not to move, and dared not to breathe.
But then the sea spoke
And the mermaid woke
As if from a trance
As she saw her lover lowered on the wave’s bubbling dance.
“You belong to me.”
Said the voice of the sea.
Was it a prophecy?
The waves swirled silently.
Were they free?
My Lady Mermaid wade
To her lover’s side
Least her good fortune turn with the turning tide.
Out of Death she carried him, pressed to her breast
And then her heart married him in that one caress.
She lulled her sleeping love with her mermaid song,
Singing of love that burns all eternity long.
With such love, what could go wrong?
And the moon overhead was mocking
The limbs and their locking
With a laughter that was shocking
It resounded through the night,
Following the mermaid and her flight.
“Are you mad? Have you lost your mind?
Are you and Love both blind?
Clutch at him all you want, my dear—‘tis like holding water.
Love him all you want, my dear—you’re still a merman’s daughter.”
And though silence followed her, the words still rang in her head,
But alive, he was! Alive, and not dead!
And on that thought her heart was fed,
And before her she saw a beach-made bed.
My Lady Mermaid laid
Her handsome prince upon the shore,
Who slept dreamless upon the sandy floor.
He barely breathed and neither did she,
As she gazed upon the face of her captivity.
Gingerly she pulled the last of the sea
Out of his pale blue body
By way of kiss,
She gave to him what she will soon miss.
He sputtered, eyes fluttered, he began to choke,
“Who—Where—?” The first words he spoke.
And then collapsed, consciousness broke.
My Lady Mermaid stayed:
Torn in two halves: reason and emotion;
Torn in two halves, between the sand and the ocean.
Head to waist, she belonged to him and the earth,
But the sea and her tail was a reminder of her birth.
She pressed her ear to his chest and listened,
And all at once, her eyes glistened.
“You can hear the land through this shell.
How it beats, how it swells.
I love the man, and through him, the land,
And if there is a way, I will learn to stand.”
The sky was glittered with stars, and all of them gleaming.
The sky was glittered with stars, and all with strange meaning.
But then the sky lightened by degrees, by the hours,
And all her love had not the power
To prevent day from coming.
She heard the sun as though it was humming,
And then she heard bells at their toll,
And the sea waking with its morning roll.
And the talk—the now too familiar talk of people
Come nearer, and nearer, and nearer still
Until fear for herself became something shrill.
“They will find him and care for him as only they can,
For how can a mermaid care for a man?”
With that thought she turned tail, went back to the sea,
And looked over her shoulder, never again to be free.
My Lady Mermaid prayed,
As one in love but devoid of all hope.
She began to sigh, she began to mope,
And she drooped to the bottom of the sea,
Like a thousand nets weighed her down heavily.
And every night, she surfaced to where
She had sat on her throne, to comb her hair,
And the spot in the sea—she found him drowning there—
And the beach where she laid him—and their first kiss—
My Lady Mermaid, has it come to this?
She looked to the moon, but the moon was silent.
She looked to the moon, and the moon’s glow was violent.
“Go see the sea witch. Her knowledge is vast.”
Said the moon after a while, said the moon at long last.
My Lady Mermaid obeyed.
The way to her lair was cold and dark.
She passed a giant octopus and many a shark.
The way to her cave was treacherous, unforgiving,
And filled with the dead and the living
Strangling in her garden of death and decay
Like a nightmare forest on display.
The hag herself looked little more like seaweed with eyes,
And a sneer for a mouth that would constantly despise.
“You’re going to die with a broken heart.
Your prince will love another. Depart! Depart!”
But My Lady Mermaid stood her ground,
Eyes to eyes without a sound.
“Death surrounds you, death awaits.
In Death alone have you a mate.
And yet…this whim you must satiate?
I will cut out your tongue to set on my plate.
And instead of a tail of a mermaid’s?
Feet that feel like they’re walking on blades!
You’ll have the loveliest face, and the loveliest grace,
With this one step you can never retrace.
All over the world in pain will you roam,
When your love weds another, you become sea foam.
Does this sound like fun to you? Is this what you want?
Is this why you’ve come to me, about my home you haunt?
Go, you stupid fool, go back to the life you knew.
Though I already know the answer you will spew.”
My Lady Mermaid shuddered
At all the old hag uttered.
“Sea witch, I know I should heed your advice,
But I am willing to pay any price.”
“Your stupidity ought to be a crime.
Well, all I can give you is time,
And not much of it at that.”
The sea witch, in disgust, spat.
“After I cut off your tongue, swim to the sand
And await the coming of your man.
Swim to the shore;
You’ll be a mermaid nevermore.”
My Lady Mermaid paid.
No sooner had the knife cleft her tongue,
Than waves of an angry sea flung
Walls of water—all in a rush—
To smash her body in, to kill her with a crush.
“You belong to me, you belong to me,
You belong to me,” said the voice of the sea.
The hag cried, “Enough! She’ll belong to you soon!”
“They had a deal,” murmured the hidden moon.
The mermaid fled, the mermaid flew
Blindly swimming, barely getting through.
Time and again, she would swim to the shore,
And the sea pulled her back, evermore.
And just then, lightning revealed a ship, like before
And tore apart her secrets, to dash to ocean floor.
The mermaid held onto one of the ship’s boards
While the sea—the angry sea—devoured her hoard.
My Lady Mermaid swayed
On the surface of those waves.
And all of their angry rush
Died slowly in a hissing hush.
She clung to the drifting wood
Somehow, she understood
That this—once a part of a tree—
Would carry her to land and sweet safety.
She looked to the sky as the storm clouds passed,
She looked to the stars and the strange light they cast.
Save me, she thought, as she stared at their gleaming.
Save me, she thought, as she fell way to dreaming.
My Lady Mermaid, now only a maid.
One tongue, two legs was the trade.
The sun found her naked, still clinging to the board.
Seaweed wrapped around her in several cords.
The sand burned around her, and suddenly, there was shade,
As he stood over she who was once My Lady Mermaid.
Her blue eyes met his brown and ached with devotion
Save me, oh, save me from the ocean…
“Who—Where—?” Again, that sweet voice.
You’re here...with me…Her heart rejoiced.
He clothed her in his cloak, and helped her to stand.
Her feet bled as they touched the sand.
With every step, her maiden feet bled
It was exactly as the sea witch said.
Step by step, like walking on sharp blades,
Thus suffered My Lady Mermaid.
My Lady Mermaid strayed
From her disowned home,
Watching warily all of the sea’s foam:
Mermen and mermaids, after death
Washing to and fro upon the sea’s breadth.
But she loved the prince beyond control of her will.
And away her prince carried her to his castle on a hill.
And so My Lady Mermaid left the sea.
That this love was Fate’s decree,
My Lady Mermaid held with certainty.
Within the stone walls of the prince’s castle,
All of its courtiers, and their vassals,
About her buzzed in such a hassle,
“Who is she? Her movements…such grace!
She must be a princess from some foreign place.”
“See how she sways in her walk?
What a pity it is, that she cannot talk.”
“Look at her eyes—such innocence.
Speaking with finer eloquence.”
Upon her attendance, the servants were dutiful.
For My Lady Mermaid was very beautiful.
Her skin—white as the moon, white as milk—
Was dressed in fine satin or else in silk.
Her hair, gold as the sun, in rivers pour
Was perfumed, bejeweled and with flowers’ décor
That all who saw her could not love her more.
Excepting the prince, who by her look was confused
Remembering another girl, on her memory, he mused.
My Lady Mermaid played
With the prince, her newfound friend,
With no words to say, her ears she would lend.
By day they rode across an emerald grass,
By night they touched glass to glass
He played the lute, she the harp,
And though it cut her like something sharp,
For him, she danced, and danced and danced
For a sometimes smile or a something glance
To tell her perhaps he was entranced.
One morning, he took her out by the sea.
My Lady Mermaid stiffened visibly.
She saw his face, the mask was strange.
She felt the air around her change.
He said, “I loved but one girl, she looks somewhat like you.
I’ve searched the world over, but she came not to view.
Once, like you, I was in a shipwreck.
A wave washed me over and off the deck.
Out of calm winds, a freak storm grew—
It slaughtered all my men, all my crew.
I know not what spared me, for it seemed…
An angel had cared for me. Perhaps I dreamed?
Yet though the way was far, I reached the land,
And I remember the touch of her fair hands.
Perhaps you think me mad, this tale to share,
But I heard the angel singing—no human voice could compare.
After, I heard bells tolling, and convinced I died,
I thought it a funeral for me, and so I cried.
A girl found me on the beach,
This girl held me when I reached
For someone—anyone—She was there to hold.
I was burning with fever; I was shaking cold.
She saved my life, nursed me to health.
And for her sake, I’d leave name and wealth.”
My Lady Mermaid was afraid
As she heard the words.
A scream-filled sky exploded with birds.
The sun overhead was shining,
While the sea gulls above were whining:
Casting shadows, circling in laps;
Begging for mercy, begging for scraps.
And My Lady Mermaid almost collapsed.
It was me, it was me, it was me,
Thought the mermaid, but he did not see.
The sea would have drowned you.
I saved you; she merely found you.
Oblivious, the prince continued
In words of the sea witch now renewed,
“But alas! my friend, I am at a point in my life.
Where the King and the Queen wish I take a wife.
And all dreams of her I must put asunder
In place of duties, now my only wonder.
There is a princess I am to meet.
It’s all been arranged, all discreet.
If I like her not, her hand I refuse.
Then to marry a girl of whom I choose.
Though my thoughts may lead somewhat to danger,
I do not wish to marry a stranger.
As you are ever and ever by my side,
I would rather have you as my bride.”
Rapture captured her, all else lost sense.
Her arms encircled him, her beloved prince.
Her eyes were wet with tears, yet her face beamed.
I thought I’d die for love of you, but now I am redeemed.
A kiss he gave her, the smallest sweetest death,
That when they parted, she was out of breath.
“We sail upon the morrow. Bring your finest dress.”
His finger traced her cheek in a lingering caress,
And brought her hand to his lips in a gentle press.
The prince then left her to think all alone.
And her heart soared, My own! He is my own!
My Lady Mermaid delayed
Upon the beach for a space
Touching her lips, and touching her face.
Her eyes would close, then slowly open,
As the sun dipped low, an uncertain omen:
She saw a sandcastle flatten under a wave.
She looked to the sea, I am no longer your slave.
The sea would spit, and claw, and hiss,
But she forgot it all to the thought of his kiss.
The sky’s blue darkened slowly by degrees
As the light hid quietly behind shadowed trees.
The stars came winking in…one by one,
Like lighting candles to mourn the dying sun.
The moon rose up with a glow in her greeting,
“Pleasure to find you here, in this, our meeting.
Tell me---is love forever, or something fleeting?”
My Lady Mermaid smiled with pride,
Moon…I am to be his bride!
She walked back home, and the moon followed her,
But the moon’s next words soon hollowed her.
“So love is frail and not so strong.
All the same, I am glad to be wrong.
After all, to her he could not be true.
What makes you so sure he would be to you?”
I love him…and we are soon to be wed.
Thought My Lady, as she crept into bed.
“Well and good! Well and good! This calls for good cheer.
For the night he weds another, the dawn you should fear.
With the day’s first rays, you disappear…my dear.”
The moon pressed her face up against the window,
And all her silver beams chilled in their flow.
I love him, Moon, she replied, That’s all I need know.
They sailed upon a ship at the day’s first glow.
The sun was shining as favorable winds did blow.
My Lady Mermaid arrayed
By love, the sun, and her prince,
Leaned over the ship, and gave a wince.
Upon the rocking sea, the boat seemed so frail.
Bitterly, she thought, This is what it means to sail?
Heave up, heave down, heave up, heave down.
If this ship breaks, will I soon drown?
The prince said, “One trip there, and one trip back.
We’ll be home ere the sky turns black.”
Up and down, up and down, she was thinking.
Sometimes flying, sometimes sinking.
And she remembered deep under the sea,
Her coral castle, her mer-family.
Her dolphins, her seahorses, and sea anemones.
Her once beautiful tail, and what it was like to swim!
I gave it all, gave it all up for him.
Yet if I had to do it twice,
All again I would sacrifice.
But the sky turned black and still they sailed.
A star shot by, and how it trailed
Like a running bride in a long silver dress.
I only wish for his happiness,
My Lady Mermaid waved to the star
Who was beyond sight, somewhere far.
She’s off to meet her groom, she let out a sigh,
She’s off to meet her groom, and so am I.
Within the castle walls were many halls,
And a courtyard with fountains, little waterfalls.
The prince walked slow, his quiet heart contrite,
Rehearsing refusals in manners polite.
The princess came, with head held low,
As if she awaited an executioner’s blow.
But just then, both parties lifted their eyes,
Brown to brown---a recognition, and surprise!
“You---? Here---?” The prince gasped,
And took her in his arms, his true love, he clasped.
Exclaimed he, “You saved me that day---that day, from the sea!
And now, Fate has brought you back to me!”
To My Lady, he said, “My fondest wish has come true!
Share this happiness with me, as you always do.”
My Lady Mermaid, dismayed,
Kissed his hand in reply,
But never surfaced sorrow in either eye.
Alone in her room, to see her, one would pity.
As she pondered her whys like some chanted ditty
Against the window’s glass, her sad reflection
One moment, love; the next, rejection.
The princess, she mused, could pass for her twin.
Yet it was the princess, the prince’s heart, did win.
Did I love you too little? Did I love you too much?
Why was it your heart I could never touch?
Day to day, it was such a task,
To be a mermaid, yet wear a human mask.
You might have loved me, if my self you knew.
But without a voice, what could I do?
Could you---would you---have loved me--- a mermaid?
That day on the beach---should I have stayed?
Oh, what can I do? Oh, what have I done?
For it’s her you kiss and me you shun.
If my love is so strong, why is yours so brittle?
Did I love you too much, did I love you too little?
She saw herself, an image in the glass.
Two selves now: the future, and the past.
One was in the room, the other on the grass.
Here I am, and there, I am a ghost…
In another day or two, a day or two at most.
My Lady Mermaid, as bridesmaid,
Held up the train and hid her pain
As one in love, who loves in vain.
And the crowd around her was cheering.
The laughter resounded as jeering,
When she walked to her death that was nearing.
She did not hear the music, nor did she see
Priests, censors, ceremony.
The prince and his bride
With her by his side
Joined their hands into one life.
She will make him a lovely wife.
Thought My Lady Mermaid,
Her heart moving slowly, in retrograde.
Back on the ship, they took the parade,
Back on the ship went My Lady Mermaid.
And there on the boat, when they sailed adrift,
The kings and queens bestowed their gift:
Two statues, in perfect likeness---
The bride and groom in marble whiteness.
When the music resumed, she began to dance.
She bartered away her life for a chance,
But she did not want to spend her last night on earth
Forgetting, regretting or fretting her worth.
And the sea was clapping in time to her tune.
She danced and she danced ‘til she thought she would swoon.
My Lady Mermaid delayed
‘Til the sky was an eerie hue,
And guests stole away, two by two.
The prince carried his wife away to his tent,
While the mermaid stared after the way that they went.
They disappeared down its cave, gentle as a shadow,
Eager to know all the things she would never know.
My Lady Mermaid, must it come to this?
Between the sky and sea, a dark abyss?
Alone now, save the helmsman at the helm.
Alone now, with aloneness, overwhelmed.
Come, sunlight, come so bright, come all adorning
Come into sight, and slay me with morning..
Just as she leaned across the edge of the boat,
Five mermaids immerged, and swam afloat.
Five mermaids, and whose hair was all shorn
Five mermaids, and how their faces did mourn!
“Sister,” they said, “you need not die tonight!
But you must act quickly ‘fore the sun’s first light!
We went to the sea-witch, we traded our hair,
And she agreed to aid us in this affair.”
And the oldest threw a silver object at her feet,
It clattered against the deck, when the two did meet.
My Lady Mermaid reached it, with a stagger.
There it was, laying there: a long slender dagger.
My Lady Mermaid, afraid
Looked to her sisters for some aid.
Her eyebrows knit together, head tilted, confused,
Not knowing how this gift ought to be used.
“You must kill the prince, strike him in the heart.”
She almost dropped the knife--- she gave a start!
“When his blood touches you, you will regain your tail.
It has to come from the heart, or the spell will fail.”
“Sister, you have to do this, please…come home.
Otherwise, you die and become sea foam.”
“Hurry now, Sister! Do you not see the sky?
You must do it, soon, Sister, for dawn is nigh.”
“We love you so dearly, Sister, but we must go.
Hurry; do this! We’ll wait for you below.”
They waved with their tails, gave the air a sweep,
Then all five mermaids dove down deep.
And the moon, the moon, the moon overhead…
It overheard words her sisters had said.
Her face flushed full, a tangerine red.
“Kill him! Kill him! Kill him soon!
Kill him! Kill him!” Cried the moon.
And her face was twisted, ugly, contorted,
Full of madness, and all distorted.
“Kill him! Kill him without delay!
He never loved you---make him pay!
Kill him! Kill him! Make him dead!
Kill him! Kill him!” The moon said.
My Lady Mermaid, unmade,
Drifted toward the tent in a trance,
For there was no blinking in her glance!
Drawn down the path like a moth to flame,
Would she destroy the heart she could not claim?
His life or hers…Could she you blame?
Would not every one of us think the same?
And yet, with every step she took,
The dagger in her hand quivered and shook.
Her heartbeat thudded now, knocked against her chest
As she stood before the curtain of whom she loved best.
The curtain parted, and there she saw
Quiet, contented love, without a flaw.
Where the bride ended, he began,
A circle of woman and of man.
How they held each other tight,
Needing to clutch all through the night.
My Lady Mermaid held the blade up high,
And then heard a murmur escape like a sigh.
His bride’s name, he called out to her
And all at once, vision became a blur.
She left as tears came, for it was all too clear.
That Truth, like Love, could set free fear.
You belong together….it was meant to be,
She then cast the dagger out to sea.
The sky changed colors, a light blue.
She stood in front of his statue.
I could not slay you, not even to live.
What kind of life would that give?
For you, your bride, and I,
With one knife thrust, three people die.
I almost learned the lesson too late---
Love that is true will not turn to hate!
Let me remember again that first night
Of how I held you and held you tight.
There were so many things I wanted to show…
My beautiful kingdom in the world below.
And all the things I’ll never again know.
And she gazed at the statue of the man she loved,
Entwined her arms around him, and then shoved.
The cries of the captain and his crew
Were too late---she was out of view.
“Who---? Where----?” The prince rushed to the side.
But she was in the sea, deep in the sea, inside.
She stared up at the sun through the wrinkled water,
And the sun overhead quietly caught her.
She held fast to her prize, while the waves rippled away.
The sun reached through the ocean, touched her with a ray.
I love you, she thought, becoming more, becoming less,
While kissing the statue and dissolving in happiness.
They floated down gently, no more to roam.
They waltzed like two lovers; she turned to sea foam.
When at last the statue reached the ocean floor,
Alas, of My Lady Mermaid, there was no more.