Image courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.
Image courtesy of NOAA Photo Library.

I. An expedition

More scientists than sirens, the mermaids
gather specimens with the stalking skill

of anglerfish. They catalogue all evidence
in an abyssopelagic lab, sterile in the steam

from deep sea vents. Tube-worms witness
their collections grow and inquiries unfold:

how cloth and air might feel when dry,
why tails up there have split in two.

II. An inventory

A lost bronze god with broad arms
poised to throw a spear—or swim.

Drowned plants and treasures, preserved
in currents: cochineal vials, silver, spice.

Drifting toys for landlocked children,
beasts that might as well be myth.

A galaxy of plastics, newly layered
in the spiraling taxonomy of the seafloor.

III. An educated guess

Their current research addresses dangers:
those cautionary tales of the captured. Rumors

ripple through the ocean, talk of tails radiant in nets,
scales dried and pinned to cards, mermaids gliding

through formaldehyde. A comprehensive study of surface
life proves elusive. Over centuries they’ll craft

a hypothesis in layers like a pearl’s iridescence to explain
why men dissect their fellow seaward scientists.

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Keely Sarr is a master’s candidate in art history who investigates the curious dreamlands of Victorian fairy paintings and the evolution of early modern mermaid hoaxes. Born in Hawai‘i and entranced by the ever-shifting Pacific, she blogs at mailboxmermaid.com to cope with her currently landlocked life.

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