I wish he’d take it down the barmaid said
then take it out and burn it. Every night
it hangs suspended like a ghost
in the rafters just above my bed.
And if I wake up in the dark
her face is peering through the beams;
each morning she’s the first thing that I see.
I thought of her at closing time,
wiping beer stains from the table top,
calling last orders, locking up
then climbing where the stairs twist suddenly
into a cramped and many-angled room.
I tried to sound uninterested but failed.
I’d let you have a look at it except
I can’t have strange men up there
after dark. I didn’t need to see it—
her description was enough: a mermaid
arching forward, breasts exposed,
her eyes fixed white and open on the world;
green plaster flaking from her scales.
I’m not from here the barmaid smiled
I’d really like to leave, become a nurse.
And with those words the figurehead
slipped out of her thoughts into mine.
The place had paralysed her with the curse
of being wet and windy, far from home.
You know the feeling when you’ve had a few
then walk out quickly in the dizzy air?
Down in the cove the tide was coming in;
the barmaid and the mermaid took to sea
and in deep currents swam as one.
The pub’s been taken over now. Some chain
has torn down all the beams;
and if the figurehead’s not there
I wonder where it went.
Unless it finds an exit in my dreams
where she looms huge and silent
in the space above my bed,
dripping salt water from her hair
into my sleeping eyes, my open mouth.
I’m tempted but I don’t go back.
Our lives are in our dreams, to some extent.