Dead men in the summer. The loss
comes seasonally, as periodic as tidal
motion, and the townspeople understand
the tide. But they cannot stop it.
Every year, their men hear mermaids
singing on waves that swallow whales and
anchors and things we have not discovered.
The song has not changed in millennia.
Its chorus tells a sensuous dream, a hook
baited with a brightly naked lure.
Fishermen and husbands in a trance
walk into the ocean. The moon offers
guidance, but they do not need it.
They know where promises are fulfilled
in melody, in scaly embraces and breasts
which float like gravity has no power.
Men do not know they drown.
They feed at nipples below the surface
without questioning their joy,
and then oblivion.
The next morning, wives and daughters cry
over empty spots at the breakfast table. Women
know nothing of what their men discover
when they venture into saltwater and never return.
Then shells and gold and gleaming
treasures line the beach as payment for
Summer, with your storms and madness,
your lightning cracks along the shore,
and no one can deny its burning.
This poem appears in the collection Inner Planets: 50 Poems by Matthew Howard. Available in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.
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