Thursday, 10 April 2014

The merman by Laurence Lerner

               The merman

It was because I swam into their net
Because the net was there
The water thickened, there was no way out,
It was because it tangled in my hair
Because it caught the water it caught me,
I left the wet and came to live in air.

I learned to stand on two legs in the dry.
I learned to look at day, at brown and red
Till they went dark. And then I learned to die
And wake when dark was dead.
I learned to change the place I was, with legs.
Learnt to drink the air, but never learnt their talk.

They gave me hungry needing fish to eat
And called it ‘fish’.
Then after needing nothing fish to put
And called it ‘fish’. Fish, fish ; as if the same.
That same, that difference, they call that a name.
I couldn’t talk like that. I couldn’t talk.

When humans talk they split their say in bits
And bit by bit they step on what they feel.
They talk in bits, they never talk in all.
So live in wetness swimming they call ‘sea’ ;
And stand in dry and watch the wet waves call
They still call ‘sea’.
            Only their waves don’t call.

Strange are their pleasures, living in the dry.
Build a long finger on an empty house
And in it sing, four times a moon, and kneel,
And talk sea talk at last, talk what they feel
Not words, not names. I heard their holy song
It said belong, belong.

So one day in the finger house I stood
And sang of wet and swimming in the was,
And happy sang of happy singing till
They came all running noise and sticks of wood
And shouting devil kneel
And devil and that day I found out hurt.

That dark I did not die but ran away
To where the wet and swimming call and wait
And joined myself to swimming. This was back,
It did not hurt to change the way you lay,
It did not hurt to breathe. Just swallowing hurt
At first, till water washed the words out. Yet

I must have tasted too much dry up there
I must have got a taste for words, or air,
Or hurt, or something. Now
I follow ships from afar,
I climb on rocks and sit there till they see,
Till they put off in boats to bring me words
And nets, and hurt. Wait till they’re close and then
Almost reluctant, slip back in the sea.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

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