As a child I was the one on the muck-brown lakeshore,
calling for my big sister to come in, please,
making sure I’d see her sleek hair and wide eyes
pop above the surface, and each time my breath
would catch. So easily she dove and sprang,
her feet puncturing air and disappearing
like mermaid fins.
I, the landlocked mermaid burying my thighs
in pebbly sand, waited for my sister to split
the water with her shore-bound legs, finally finished,
another breath released, and she’d lead me back
to the worn-out sheet, filled with sand, and
the beach towels, damp, yet welcoming, then
silently, we’d make our way back. She the only
one of us with the fatigue of muscles and tendons,
from hours under water.
I trailed her and watched how her feet turned slightly
outward when she walked, the dents deeper on the
sides when she marched through sand, and I thought
this was caused by mermaid fins that morphed
back to feet for land, and we wouldn’t talk about
anything, just felt the twilight come in purple swaths
across a sky invaded by darkening treetops,
where hills met the horizon with a kiss.
Can you imagine a world where the mermaids
are told they cannot swim, and if they do, they may
be grappled with and told anything the mermen want
to say, they cannot speak up or are made to stuff
their mermaid mouths with water weeds and silt
until they look like dolls, hollow eyes and empty
Can you imagine these sisters having to tell each other
anything else than you can swim all day if you want
or just watch your toes seep beneath the soaked sand,
let the lake water lap at your ankles and know
you are magnificent. You are supposed to be here.
Let’s lead our sisters to the shores and step in,
and take the water with us as we swim.
Lake Effect contributor Jenny Benjamin is a Milwaukee poet and writer, and author of the novel, This Most Amazing.