Common as a mako, mean as a bull
You attack survivors, you smell the crash.
We think we’re safe, wading in freshwater,
Coastal inlets, summer vacations on Maine islands.
But you swim upstream, play salmon in shark skin.
I grew up fearless—skinny-dipping like Anne Sexton
Who hungered for death, so she went for night swims,
off Squirrel Island.I bathed in that same dark water
Tip-toeing ‘til I plunged, numb from the waist down.
Drifted downeast to Sand Beach, I got my feet wet
After a stormwatch, the rains receded, a neap tide
Too weak to take me in the undertow, and yet
Eudora herself couldn’t promise a good catch.
Then you had me, pulled my leg out of its socket
Suddenly whipped by this possessive man-of-war
I felt the heat of the welt, spinning like a kid’s
Black inner tube floating with the cold current.
Dizzy from blood in the water I could feel,
Insulated and surreal, I didn’t even see you
Nudge my hip, but serrated pain prickled
All over my body, bubbles broke through
My choked throat—only sea monsters
Communicate on that frequency. The ill-fated
Rusalka, wronged girls, might have warned me
As I kissed the mouth of their rivers goodnight.
Still we thrashed, I tried to look you in the eye
But you’d blacked out, rolled back filmy shields
So you wouldn’t watch your own violence
It’s the way you create intimacy, a living weapon
You wield, as if you had fists instead of fins.
If you brought a buddy, I’d be torn apart.
Since you prefer to tag-team, but unguarded
You had one weakness, like a beat-down dog,
And I wasn’t dead, though you bit hard.
Teeth cracking bones, you said, “not done
With you, bitch,” I kicked you in the nose
And swam as fast as I could, a sick diagonal
Limp strokes, a flying fish nibbled by gulls.
I prayed for no splash, expecting the take-back
One last time, to drag me too far to be saved
How you took those nympho girls in California
‘Til you got chased out of Monterey Bay
Hunted to the brink of extinction
Looking for seals, unsuspecting prey
You changed coasts, a notable distinction
In the twisted mess of abandoned nets.
The military didn’t want you; the Lochness,
Drowned ghosts, the wrecks of the Great Lakes
Absorbed the sordid stink of your cowardice,
Rampage, frenzied bets and stomach contents.
They could map a watershed of your victims,
Whoever you ate, the carnage in your wake
Bottom-feeders live for that kind of bait
You circle and surf, take what you can break
Scientists study your natural rhythms.
My mind flashed back to a funny movie scene
In “Beetlejuice,” the dead guy in the waiting room
Of the Recently Deceased, a shark up to his knee.
Weirdly enough, you waited for me—to swim
At my own risk, at dusk, in four feet of water
That’s where you lurk, hulking and sulking,
A big fucking jerk, but a Titan’s daughter
Had supernatural powers in the making
I have used these against predators like you
Who’d never believed a sea-maiden existed
Let alone shot salty jets, tears like bullets,
Adrenaline, Calypso-tempered and persistent.
Nothing propels a woman faster to shore
Than knowing she chose a fate, her mistake
I’d already healed from the other bite wounds
Your friends, bad boys with Great White grins
They draw a songless siren, then surround her
Like hell hounds.
My muscles remembered the weight of your jaws
Clamped, an invisible vice grip with a hacksaw.
I crawled sideways over rocks, spilling myself,
Understanding the cause, secretly poured whiskey
And rum down the drain so you wouldn’t get rough;
It’s not like I was chumming.
For a few sun-soaked days one February,
I wallowed in the Caribbean to recover
Snorkeling in Savannah Bay, despite
The bull shark sightings, I followed
A blue tang, let my inhibitions sway
Like sea fans.
At home in the lakes with the nixies, who purify,
I regenerate, justified, having testified. But the moonlit
Waves at Scarborough Beach tempt me; I can’t resist
Channeling the silhouettes of rockweed, illuminated
A conduit for waking sea fantasies, their shadows
Like slithering heads of Medusa.
Poem by Leah C. Stetson.
Image by Unknown Artist.