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The Women in Literature and Life Assembly
The National Council of Teachers of English
Editor:  Patricia Kelly kellyp@vt.edu
Volume 1
Fall 1992

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The Mermaid's Song

It must be told 
It must be told 
And so it is... 

Unspoken words 
A heart carries 
Inside itself. 
Too heavy to bear, 
Too hard to say 
But there, 
Telling its story 
To a life that can't stop listening 
To the sounds of the past 
Saying to the present 
It must be told -- 
It must be told... 

Little girls listen to their heartbeats, 
As their fingers fondle the brush ends of their braids 
Roped tightly together 
Bound by brown rubber bands 
Doubled over thick clumps of hair falling gracelessly 
Over bent shoulder blades. 
They listen to the heavy breathing 
Of a whiskey-sodden father 
And smell the stench of a man who hated 

They feel the nights 
Descending with the 
Menace of the dark; 
Unforgiving nights 
That keep the secrets of the house, 
Til daylight gives them away 
To everyone -- to everyone -- to everyone. 

And when they all know, 
And they will, 
Little girls must hide, 
Or turn inside themselves 
To flowing ivory dresses, 
Silverhandled mirrors at rest 
On soft linen lace, 
And yellow roses in cut-crystal vases 
That catch the corners of the sun, 
Spilling its light 
Across pianos 
Lacquered bright, 
In empty, gorgeous rooms 
Of colored-carpeting, 
Polished floors, 
French doors, 
And bound books, 
Fitted in shelves that rise 
To pale blue mouldings 
Framing the beloved space. 

Then little girls must see the blanket 
Pulled across the mother's face -- 
muted rage in every breath 
That heaves beneath 
The faded quilt 
Now worn and used 
Like the life 
That clutches 
To its dingy pattern. 

And when the heartbeats stop, 
A moment's pause in its 
Unrelenting history, 
The fingers fall 
From the blunted ends of hair 
And rise to flooded eyes 
To clear the mist ... 

And little girls must listen once again. 


By Sondra Melzer


Reference Citation: Melzer, Sondra. (1992). A Mermaid's Song. WILLA, Volume I, 25.

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