This poem is based on the old Irish story of the mermaid Lí Ban, who chose to trade her beloved sea and her magic for heaven. The poem first appeared in the anthology Green Elephants from Scurfpea Publishing (2023), available on Amazon.
patron of mermaids
Lí Ban, such sad romance in your finned tail,
your skin half silk, half scale, brethren salmon
slick and cold against you. I don’t wonder
that you and your otter-dog found surviving
the flood more bearable in the company of eel,
bladderwort and sponge. How long did you,
king’s daughter, long for your village, for your
straw bed and fire, for dry air, for the touch
of creatures warm with pumping blood?
You were so long in the water, did your fins
stiffen with age, your tail arthritic, hair a tangle
of algae and pondweed, your scales brittle
and broken off among the hornwort tangles?
When after 300 years Béoán heard you sing,
fished you out, did you choose the baptism
just to lie on the sand where you could see sky
once more? Did you know the air would kill you,
that the price of heaven would be your magic?
Lí Ban, St. Muirgen, take away my longing for
the deep, for the songs of the sea. Bless me with
held breath and the garbled music of trees and stones.