Desert Mermaid

Desert Mermaid
Sandi Leibowitz

Like all converts she adamantly
shuns the thing she’s given up:
the only one out here
who will not build a pool.

Renouncing the sea took courage,
worse than quitting cigarettes
since it was her own nature she refused.
Back then, young spry, she’d longed for legs,
land-urge demanding that she undergo
the jolt of hard earth up to hilt of hip
for her adventuring.
She begged and won King Neptune’s charm,
final as surgery,
dividing her from her piscine half.

Three decades she journeyed.
As she aged—these dry mortals crack
so early, gravity-harassed—
she lost the will for locomotion.
Time to plant herself somewhere,
a seed, not knowing
what she might grow into.

She could have bound herself to ferny forest
the dangerous green of the sea.
Or taken root in fertile farmland,
and oh she did once love to feel loam,
gritty as coffee grinds,
pass through her hands.

By then she’d come not to regret her choice
but pine, despite herself, for her abandoned element
— sentimental perhaps
or maybe finding out at last
that you can never quite escape
your DNA.

And so she chose this arid valley
hemmed in by peaks,
tsunami swells that never crash;
no clear horizons lest she mourn for
ocean’s infinitude.

Her salt comes in the form of sweat;
it isn’t easy gardening in the desert.
Beneath her straw-brimmed hat
she kneels amid the spears of yucca,
lost in desert blooms
the blood-red of sea-anemones
or white as froth,
planting prickly pears succulent
with inner oceans.

Homesickness surfaces without her noticing:
seashells separating the rows of her agaves;
abalone earrings and a string of pearls,
unneeded ornaments for the dress she wears
for dancing each Saturday night,
whose sequins mimic her discarded scales.

It was the right choice, she assures herself,
though when her bare foot crushes
a stray cactus thorn,
she can’t deny she hears a ghost
of tidal pulse in blood’s mere trickle,
this ebbless flow.


Sandi Leibowitz is a school librarian, classical singer, New Yorker and former nereid. Her speculative poetry and fiction appear in Mythic Delirium, Kaleidotrope, Luna Station Quarterly, and other magazines and anthologies. She has been nominated for the Rhysling, Dwarf Star, Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net. She has traveled in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims from southern France to Santiago de Compostela, ridden in a hot-air balloon over the Rio Grande, and visited with Arthur in Avalon. Feel free to drop in for some virtual coffee at her web site, “In the Raven’s Wood,” at