Sirena by D.A. Gray

D.A. Gray is the author of one previous collection of poems, Overwatch, Grey Sparrow Press, 2011.  His poetry has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Appalachian Heritage, Kentucky Review, The Good Men Project, Still: The Journal, War, Literature and the Arts among many other journals.  Gray recently completed his graduate work at The Sewanee School of Letters and at Texas A&M-Central Texas.  A retired soldier and veteran, the author writes and lives in Copperas Cove, Texas with his wife, Gwendolyn.

“The old fish promised to cast a love spell on the warrior if the maiden would agree to become a mermaid one night a month d
uring the full moon . . . for one year . . . “But, if at any time, human eyes ever see you in mermaid form, you will remain a mermaid forever.”

The Legend of Sirena, Tonkawa legend

Our marriage is the room I visit in
my sleep. Here, the ceiling fan blows downward
and sun-catchers rattle against the glass;
At night, they’re lightless shades against the moon.

Some nights, memory brings me unwilling toward
the creek, that place I saw you first beneath
the ruins, a shipwrecked trawler run aground
sitting in three feet of river water.
The story said the boat had always been;
we never questioned how or why.

                                      Old men—
they were the ones who said to stay away.
“A wreck means nothing good can happen there.”

It was this wisdom kept me on dry ground.
A younger man I worked the fields and tilled
the ground, then spent my pay on warm Tecate.
Those nights, alone, I’d throw the bottles high
to watch the shining fragments scatter.

it caught me unaware, while walking through
a shortcut route that took me past the creek.
I’d stumbled through the weeds, half-blind, to see
the sun half-bleed into the hills, and you
beneath the trawler’s bow, half-naked, steeped
in waist deep water peering down, where dark
bodies of fish circled. Their shadows belied
the creek’s apparent depth.

                             Those summer nights
we slept but never dreamed. I’d rise at dawn,
slip from the bed, to hear the coffee brew,
or see the small, wet footprints, evidence
of sacrifices wives will make. And you
back under sheets, asleep again, half-clothed 
my work-stained shirt.  

                       The winter followed; work
was scarce. We turned in fitful sleep. We heaved
like ships on ocean waves, bad dreams conceived
two worn out souls. One night cool linen found
me lying alone. Outside our window, prints
chiseled a trail across the frost-white grass
and disappeared into the woods. I followed.

The oaks said, “Nothing good can happen here.”
The creek’s low murmur led me through the brush,
and your voice carried. Rage pulled me ahead.
The twigs snapped and skin tore on sticker weed
and cactus spines.

                     I reached the clearing where
I saw you sitting on the wreckage. Pale 
white skin became mottled copper and scales
reflected silvery light. I turned away.  
The splash I heard became our final words.
And still, it speaks: How deep the river is,
how smooth and quiet the water’s surface parts.

Photography by Toni Holtzman. Toni lives in Gaylord, Michigan, where she works as a hospice R.N. by day, and often night. She loves to travel, and recently returned from visits to Rome, Greece, and Israel.

All Special Issue photos are © 2016, Toni Holtzman