‘The Emancipation of the Mermaid Tattoo’ and other poems by Paul Jones
By: Paul Jones
The Emancipation of the Mermaid Tattoo
The laser took her scale by scale
slowly moving from waist to tail.
She had never been meant for him.
He had led her out on a limb.
He kept her there under his skin
an arm’s length away, still in touch,
but never close, never that much
a part of his core, his truest heart.
They both had had a painful start—
her arm on his arm configured
when newly coupled by pain shared
in their first joining. She, half gone,
left him pained again, half alone.
She became too abstract to be
more than a faded memory.
Now as she vanished in light’s heat,
she found liberation, not defeat,
a world beyond the flesh, a fresh
incarnation, again half fish
at swim in the ethereal sea.
Relieved of his body’s hurt and rage,
she dives to her sisters’ refuge.
There among coral and tangled weeds,
they celebrate that she’s been freed.
They sing from the brine’s inky depths—
“No sweat. No tears. And no regrets.”
Am I somehow less manly
for not wanting to shoot
rats down at the dump or
drink until I can’t walk or
or vape or snort or inject or
jump on Jerry’s ass over
a girl both of us would
learn was nowhere worth
a cracked tooth? Last contact,
she was a waitress at an IHOP
outside of Richmond. Jerry
became a professor who would
rather go to RenFairs than to class.
One of those who changed but
but could not change his career.
Someone who researched swords
as if dragons were a possibility.
Jerry called me late at night
forty years later to tell me all of that.
She had come to see him at his office.
He answered the door in his mail shirt.
There was a stump with an axe
where his desk should have been.
Whatever she had come to say,
she took that with her as she left.
“And you, what’s up?” he asked.
“Jerry, did you know that the
Universe is going to collapse
as it expands until gravity is
no longer consequential? Or
the black holes, whose attraction
is infinite, will draw everything
into a wad in which mass
vanishes and everything is
just dark energy? I mean, friend,
I have larger concerns these days.”
An Aran Sweater
I saw that jumper in black and white
on Sunday night’s Ed Sullivan show.
Each Clancy Brother had one on
sent to them from Ireland by their mom.
Deep-voiced Tommy Maken wore one too.
How I wanted to be among them,
to be a wild colonial boy.
I thought a sweater would make it so,
make it so I could splendidly die,
romantically, away from home,
surrounded by men of the King’s law.
Penny whistle and pistol in hand,
I’d take the first shot and the second,
my blood blooming through the weave of wool
tracing the braided trail on my chest.
With cap gun drawn, I’d already died
both as cowboy and as Indian,
but for that sweater, I’d die again.
That’s how little I understood then
of Ireland, famine, crisis, or Crown
or how the mother knew her son drowned
in scene three of Riders to the Sea.
The story that his wet clothes told her:
His sister, when knitting him a warm
pair of socks, put up three score stitches,
but dropped four of them.
In dreams, her son rode the fog-grey horse.
He, now ghost, wore an off-white sweater.
When I woke, “Bosnia”
was on the radio.
The other words were masked
by static, the grey mist
of sounds, a thick lumpy
blanket, something is there—
books, a cat, dog, someone
I love naked, asleep.
“Careful. Quiet. Still. Still.
Dreams are building their soft
empire.” That’s what I can
almost hear, but that one
word is more that I can
carry through this new day.
The rest, restless, endless,
are new puzzles I share
with September’s cool air.
Against Bird Poems
The way poets go on about them,
you’d think birds were their inner lives.
Instead they’re yogurt for breakfast,
no fruit, no nuts, no sugar, sour taste.
However healthy they are, they are dull.
They’re one more trip to the ATM
to obsessively check your balance.
You get a couple of torn decrepit
Jackson faces for your empty wallet.
You slouch away unsatisfied.
You might as well stick your hands in
a drawer of unsorted knives at night
as write a poem about a contentious
wren or one more clownish titmouse or
that one indefatigable cardinal
fighting his own image in the window.
Last August, I saw a black snake curled
around an emptied nest in the quince bush.
Three firm lumps sagged in his body-long
belly. Flaccid and docile as I unwrapped
him from the thorny branches, he never
knew where he was being taken or why.