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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Mermaid (Robert Lowell)

(Dumbass that I am, I've finally figured out how to convert scanned images to text. So now, instead having to type in poems I want to post, or post about here, or having to search the web for them if I'm too lazy to type, I can just scan 'em and go.)

So, below is Robert Lowell's Mermaid, originally published in his 1973 collection, The Dolphin. More about Lowell can be found at this link.) Apparently, Lady Caroline Blackwood (more here), to whom Lowell was married at the time, is the mermaid of the title and figues strongly in the whole collection. Interestingly, to me, at least, Blackwood was previously married to the artist Lucien Freud — who, while he's no slouch as a painter himself, was a friend of possibly the greatest painter of the 20th century, Francis Bacon (be sure to check out the Bacon paintings linked to in that article). And they were nutbars all, bless the large-brained lot of 'em.

As usual, in lieu of taking up much space writing about the poem itself, I have scattered links throughout to show what associations were made in "my tiny, mad, chicken mind" (that link is unrelated to anything else in this post — I think).



I have learned what I wanted from the mermaid
and her singeing conjunction of tail and grace.
Deficiency served her. What else could she do?
Failure keeps snapping up transcendence,
bubble and bullfrog boating on the surface,
belly lustily lagging three inches lowered—
the insatiable fiction of desire.
None swims with her and breathes the air.
A mermaid flattens soles and picks a trout,
knife and fork in chainsong at the spine,
weeps white rum undetectable from tears.
She kills more bottles than the ocean sinks,
and serves her winded lovers' bones in brine,
nibbled at recess in the marathon.


Our meetings are no longer like a screening;
I see the nose on my face is just a nose,
your bel occhi grandi are just eyes
in the photo of you arranged as figurehead
or mermaid on the prow of a Roman dory,
bright as the morning star or a blond starlet.
Our twin black and tin Ronson butane lighters
knock on the sheet, are what they are,

too many, and burned too many cigarettes. . .
Night darkens without your necessary call,
it's time to turn your pictures to the wall;
your moon-eyes water and your nervous throat
gruffs my directive, "You must go now go."
Contralto mermaid, and stone-deaf at will.


I see you as a baby killer whale,
free to walk the seven seas for game,
warmhearted with an undercoat of ice,
a nerve-wrung back . . . all muscle, youth, intention,
and skill expended on a lunge or puncture—
hoisted now from conquests and salt sea
to flipper-flapper in a public tank,
big deal for Sunday children. . . . . My blind love—
on the Via Veneto, a girl
counting windows in a glass cafe,
now frowning at her menu, now counting out
neanderthals flashed like shorebait on the walk. . . .
Your stamina as inside-right at school
spilled the topheavy boys, and keeps you pure.


One wondered who would see and date you next,
and grapple for the danger of your hand.
Will money drown you? Poverty, though now
in fashion, debases women as much as wealth.
You use no scent, dab brow and lash with shoeblack,
willing to face the world without more face.
I've searched the rough black ocean for you,
and saw the turbulence drop dead for you,
always lovely, even for those who had you,
Rough Slitherer in your grotto of haphazard.
I lack manhood to finish the fishing trip.
Glad to escape beguilement and the storm,

I thank the ocean that hides the fearful mermaid—
like God, I almost doubt if you exist.

Robert Lowell

Part 2 is missing because I'm working from Lowell's Selected Poems which does
not have Part 2.

Here's another Lowell poem, Water. And an Elizabeth Bishop poem, North Haven, written for Lowell. As you can see, there's "water, water everywhere."


Loren said...

Oh my goodness, you must be one of those “literary” people, not a techie.

If I hadn’t been using a scanner for the last five years my web site would never have existed, though I still do a Google search before I scan any poetry.

I like your method of “commenting.”

MackJohnny said...

Hi Loren. I think I'm probably closer to redneck than to literary or techie.

Glad you like the commenting.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Great post! The links are fun to follow. I really have to get my hands on that Selected.