Today I'm reading 'Falling in Love with a Fiji Mermaid' by , which is one of three poems by Clauser in the latest issue of .
Clauser provides a helpful explanatory note at the top of the poem: "Fiji mermaids were common gaffs at carnival sideshows. They were usually made by combining the head and torso of a monkey with the tail of a fish." The fictional creature has . To the right is one of the least horrifying images of a Fiji mermaid that you can find online. A Fiji mermaid was featured on an episode of The X-Files back in 1995, at which point I would have been ten years old, and I've successfully repressed that memory until today when I foolishly plugged "Fiji Mermaid" into Google Images.
Anyway, back to the poem. The poem draws on that carnival sideshow tradition that asks you to believe things that simply can't be true and applies it, with powerful effect, to a failing relationship. Love, or the desire to be in love, can make you believe your imagination over your senses. "It's easy to confuse lies / for love, / believe that the palm reader / wasn't out to pick your pocket." Our desires lead us into fantasies. "It's cheap to dream / of such things, / coral meadows where / bull sharks menace / mermaids to their caves. / Where Fiji women toss / their stillborn babies to the sea / and they come back / remade by waves." And this would go on but that "in the end / the carney calls you / back to the midway light. / No time left for fantasy."
I've talked before about how much I dislike poem titles, but I think this is a really good one. It could easily have been called "Love Is a Fiji Mermaid" or "Love Is Like a Fiji Mermaid", but that wouldn't have given the same shade of meaning. Saying "Falling in Love with a Fiji Mermaid" shows that falling in love (I want to say "when it's not really love" but maybe that's too easy) has little to do with the other person in the relationship. You're falling in love with the dream of love, with the cheap threads of affection for affection that hold you to the other person. And somebody's done the work sewing that mermaid together, and they're looking to make a buck off of you.
That's a pretty dark message for a Sunday afternoon, huh? But it's a dark message well stated. And who says there isn't something cheering in the enlightenment that comes from of a hard truth? I was walking to work the other day and saw a very anxious man standing at an intersection, stepping into and out of the busy street to see whether he could make it across to the other side. Can I go now? Can I go now? All he needed to do was wait until the walk sign told him it was safe to cross, but instead he decided to worry and fret and increase his own anxiety. Right then a line of poetry came to me: "Rejoice in the Law." There is some joy in the hard truths, the red hand that signals "Don't": they can free you. So maybe Clauser's poem isn't the worst thing for a Sunday afternoon.
There's more from and many others in the July/August issue of The American Poetry Review