Sometimes when the mermaid’s daughter
is in the bathroom
cleaning her teeth with a thick brush
and baking soda
she has the sense the room is filling
It starts at her feet and ankles
and slides further and further up
over her thighs and hips and waist.
In no time
it’s up to her oxters.
She bends down into it to pick up
handtowels and washcloths and all such things
as are sodden with it.
They all look like seaweed—
like those long strands of kelp that used to be called
‘mermaid-hair’ or ‘foxtail.’
Just as suddenly the water recedes
and in no time
the room’s completely dry again.
A terrible sense of stress
is part and parcel of these emotions.
At the end of the day she has nothing else
to compare it to.
She doesn’t have the vocabulary for any of it.
At her weekly therapy session
she has more than enough to be going on with
just to describe this strange phenomenon
and to express it properly
to the psychiatrist.
She doesn’t have the terminology
or any of the points of reference
or any word at all that would give the slightest suggestion
as to what water might be.
‘A transparent liquid,’ she says, doing as best she can.
‘Right,’ says the therapist, ‘keep going.’
He coaxes and cajoles her towards word-making.
She has another run at it.
‘A thin flow,’ she calls it,
casting about gingerly in the midst of the words.
‘A shiny film. Dripping stuff. Something wet.’
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (born 1952) Ireland (born in England)
Translated by Paul Muldoon