‘The Mermaid in the Hospital’ by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

She awoke
to find her fishtail
clean gone
but in the bed with her
were two long, cold thingammies.
You’d have thought they were tangles of kelp
or collops of ham.
‘They’re no doubt
taking the piss,
it being New Year’s Eve.
Half the staff legless
with drink
and the other half
playing pranks.
Still, this is taking it
a bit far.’
And with that she hurled
the two thingammies out of the room.
But here’s the thing
she still doesn’t get —
why she tumbled out after them
arse-over-tip . . .
How she was connected
to those two thingammies
and how they were connected
to her.
It was the sister who gave her the wink
and let her know what was what.
‘You have one leg attached to you there
and another one underneath that.
One leg, two legs . . .
A-one and a-two . . .
Now you have to learn
what they can do.’
In the long months
that followed
I wonder if her heart fell
the way her arches fell,
her instep arches.
© by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, all rights reserved. from The Fifty Minute Mermaid (Gallery Books, 2007) The Irish language original is here.

Thank you to Suella Holland from Gallery Press for allowing me to use this poem to celebrate Irish Women’s Poetry and translation on International Women’s Day 2012.

Clonfert Cathedral Mermaid by Andreas F. Borchert

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