The Mermaid And The Sailors
By Claire Askew
I seem to draw them to me.
They come swirling towards me
in the dusk – every tread unsteady.
They set their course
across the bar-room floor.
Some have life stories they need
to share. One recalled a fatal night
in the Navy: falling off the back
of a warship headed for Shanghai.
He said he stood for three days
on a reef, and prayed – and afterwards,
he clung to me
like a drowning man.
Often they’re older, and the more
drunk they get, the taller
their tales. I’ve been told
of ten-year sentences
in Brazilian jails – of smuggling
and supplying – and so many times,
of the hundreds of starry rivets
soldered by scarred hands
into Her Majesty’s hulls.
They’re hooked by my red hair,
swarming like fish
to a bright fly. Half-scared,
they slide over with a Scotch
and a story, maybe a sharp line
they thought up outside
in the streetlit cigarette haze.
They dive right in, as if through ice,
and they come up sparkling,
wheezing, waiting to be saved.