national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Skin and Scale

Caroline Klidonas  • 
Elon University

My sister is small, painting her arms

with washable tattoos when she tells me

a fish’s body is slick to the touch,

that some eat parasites, dead skin,

and dolphins are carnivores.

 

Do they eat mermaids, too?

 

I laugh because I know mermaids

taste like metal, with breasts hanging

full of oil spill, and stretchmarks

leaking from skin to scale.

Some are obese. Some sing

 

loud and ugly, drinking whale piss.

They know they can be eaten—

their blood thick, clotted—but they relish

that they are desired, suck

mucus from mollusk limbs, pick

 

their teeth with fine white fish bones.

Their tails do not glisten with studded

emerald scales. A mermaid’s tail chafes

in the salted current, slated black

with barnacles and bristling hairs.

 

They fuck sailors for money, howl

over coins in their caves, then collapse

with tarnished gold in their fists, imagining

how the men’s cocks will soon burn—like the fire

they’ve never seen—and fall off, raining into the sea.

 

I want to be a mermaid.

 

I want to be naked, devoured: let me

transform. People envy swans

for their necks, goddesses for their golden hair,

tight nipples. Give me the repulsive, the enraged—

sharp sides of rocks cutting feet on the shore.