God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind…and God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:21 (NASB)
Tying her hair in a braid –
keeping it from floating, the hardest part –
and fastening it with a leaf of seaweed,
she knelt her singular fin before the altar –
decorated with an embossed trident
and engraved with Ποσειδέων –
and tried to pray.
Distant whale cries and dolphin clicks
were current-carried into the temple –
A grouper swam past –
the only other presence.
There was nothing.
Not in her heart, not in her soul –
though the legend states her kind had none –
there was nothing
but the shadow of a lone man
beyond the surface shimmers –
struggling to stand,
a clay jar in his balance.
Breaking the surface without a sound,
the mermaid swam around him, a piercing eye –
fighting the need to sing him to the deep –
exchanging for curiosity.
Merchants have kiosks,
travelers have caravans –
this man, a jar.
She struck a deal with herself –
if what was in the jar satisfied her wondering,
no – she would not drown him.
But if this was a daily chore,
or a return from the market,
or containing nothing –
the God of the Sea would receive a new sacrifice.
Surely, that would renew her prayers.
She followed him
from the sea of the Mediterranean
to the Nile
through Pharaoh’s canal
to the sea of the red
carried by the River Jordan
to the sea of the dead.
The man entered a crag with the jar,
What kind of errand would warrant
With the man out of sight, she swam the current ahead
to the salt and the brine in the sea of the dead –
the river gave way to the sea,
pushing her to the saline ceiling.
Choking, shielding, forcing her gills shut with each lap –
though each flick of her fin burned her scales
with a thousand swords,
she swam to the cave
and the solitary jar.
Her lungs gasped at the salty air
as she crawled to what lay there –
removing the lid from the top of the jar,
glancing around to avoid being found
thinking of the man’s possible toll –
looking inside, brimming with scrolls.
The tips of her fingers dampened marks
on the unrolled parchment –
her squinting, skeptic eyes
beheld the text –
“καὶ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ κήτη τὰ μεγάλα
καὶ πᾶσαν ψυχὴν ζῴων ἑρπετῶν ἃ ἐξήγαγεν τὰ ὕδατα κατὰ γένη αὐτῶν
καὶ πᾶν πετεινὸν πτερωτὸν κατὰ γένος
καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς ὅτι καλά4 – “
She found herself
in the great sea monsters
and every creature that moved,
with which the waters swarmed
with her kind –
and she saw she was good.
Poseidon had no such text –
there was nothing to her
deity of designation –
the words coursed through her
in a wave of salvation.
Tucking the scroll back into its jar,
she swam farther –
gasping through the sea of the dead,
back through the River Jordan
and the sea of the red,
these waters washed her
of all forlorn –
the tides pulled lighter,
for she was reborn.
For all her days thereafter,
she pulled only the men to her reeds
those whom persecuted
those of her creed.
Her heart illumined the dawn of a soul –
a life ever after, a death without foam.
Upon her last water-breath,
she swam to the sky –
awaiting the first Judgment of this kind.
2 The path from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea could only have been made via either The Canal of the Pharaohs (from the Nile to the Red Sea), built by Ptolemy II, according to Diodorus; or the River of Trajan, as built in the 2nd century AD, according to Ptolemy the Astronomer. [Other sources: X X]