This Life Where I Don’t Get It
Jessica Barksdale

This Life Where I Don’t Get It

The mermaid whispered fish words, bubbles of narrative
schooling past as I refused to drown, alive in my silence.
She stood arms akimbo, dark hair floating like eels,
as she sang me awake. But all I heard were echoes
of the ocean, a crying of small fry and destroyed coral, the clatter
of crabs clawing their lost way across pebbles, the bright blue kind
from my long-ago fish tank. Seaweed strands wrapped around
my fingers, eyes. I couldn’t wake up even as she whooshed past,
an iridescent shimmer of wavering light, she of two worlds,
up and down, dry and wet, awake and asleep, she a woman who could sing
underwater, she who craved my ear to open like a clam.
The water grew cold, my body shaking as the mermaid finned away,
taking with her light, and hope, and any chance I would understand
once I broke the surface of my dream, the messages
buried deep in the bodies of bivalves, waiting for my next life.

Jessica Barksdale

is the author of sixteen novels, including, most recently, What the Moon Did (Flexible Press). Her short story collection, Trick of the Porch Light, is forthcoming in 2023. She has published two poetry collections, When We Almost Drowned (2019) and Grim Honey (2021). She taught at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, and continues to teach for UCLA Extension and in the online MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.