a world of stuttering streetlamps, sinking paper-
boats & swirling water,
you were born into.
shadows possessed you
till you laughed at your own reflection
in the dirty water.
men swam from afar to see you
but this was no medieval venice
& you were no mermaid nor queen
but a wild-lipped thing,
with ocean hair and sea-shell skin,
a bastard child the tide forgot to claim.
you learnt to read the mumblings of thunder
on nights the sky sputtered so much with rain
that they left you out in the dark-stained streets
you counted the lightning strikes
& predicted exactly when the tower would fall
except they did not believe you
and for this they called you witch woman.
she said, you smelled like rain-mist,
that your heart was moist as a rain-washed city
that on nights you danced
beneath the streetlamps amber gaze
in a crimson dress soaked with despair,
you had the grace of a ballerina
who lost her leg.
she said, you had been a mermaid
only once & a long long time ago
when the sky was sea
& the sun an ancient pearl
the great oyster had left behind
when she created this world
kissing your love-starved fingers,
she said, you had been loved,
many many lives ago
by a sailor who drowned in the starlit sea
chanting your name to the waves.
sometimes you prowl this city
with webbed feet
guiding paper boats to places
children visit every night
till they are old enough
to be exiled.
the shadows in the puddles
tell you when it is time.
you write a love letter to yourself
and place it in the old wine bottle
the sailor had cast away
& sail it down the river-road
for your future self to find
in the rains to come.
previously published in venus mag