Sometimes I Want to be a Tea-Drinking British Mermaid: “Return”

The poetry unit continues, and I’ve found that my students are less receptive to the nuts and bolts of poetry (tone, allusion, terms to know, glossary entries) and more receptive to the way a line feels. Poetic lines resonate with them the same way song lyrics do, and it’s that feeling, the experience of the poem, that they are the most insightful about. We talk about the fact that even just a line or two out of a poem might resonate with them, and they can pick and choose their favorite moments of language, cling to them like song lyrics, defining their own standard of poetry.

I have to teach them the other stuff, but I like discussing the emotional response they have.

This week is turning exhausting and it’s only Wednesday. I tossed and turned last night, kept waking up because I was panicked that I wasn’t sleeping (vicious cycle). In times like these, I usually find myself craving a day spent watching British period films – Sense & Sensibility, the BBC Pride & Prejudice. I want to drink tea and wear a bonnet and hide away in the 19th century, which of course was no better than my current day, but is rather an escapist romance. No more emails – only letters brought by postmen on horseback. No more harsh fluorescent lights – only candles and sunlight. I want dresses and parties. I want horses and open fields.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of femininity, the examples we’re given to follow. Today’s poem addresses that train of thought. For me, Shaindel Beers’s poem, “Return,” is about that secret, make-believe world of uber-femininity:  of goddesses and mermaids, of super-women or not-women. It’s about swimming and transforming. It’s about escaping the cold and the real and the literal and the logical and all the complications and worries that go along with it. It’s about swimming, deep and deeper until we reach goddesses and supernatural beings. An other-worldly place. Because sometimes I just want to be a mermaid. A mermaid wearing a bonnet, drinking tea, on the English countryside.

“Return”

Shaindel Beers (from A Brief History of Time)

When the clouds come in over the lake, eggplant dark,
and the ice fishers are trudging in for the day,
I watch the vermilion opening of sun in clouds
and slip into a time when women wore indigo-dyed smocks
and wielded the hips, thighs, breasts of goddesses
as their religion. Every woman knows
how to be Circe or Medea until it’s trained out of her
and she becomes Penelope or Portia,
waiting away her days or ending them
choking on coals. Maybe the way to the next world
lies somewhere beneath the ice, and all I’ve got to do
to find it is steal one of the ice fisher’s saws
and make my circle–ignore the pangs and stabs
of ice between my ribs, in my lungs–and swim further,
deeper than any submersible has ever been,
brushing away the warnings of Celsius and Fahrenheit
and Kelvin, any advice of modern medicine.
Because I know this is my lake
and it won’t hurt me
despite what scientists, philosophers, other observers might
think, because sometime when myth was real
I lived there, and now I need to go back, feel my legs merge
again into fins
and swim through time. Have tea with the Lady of the Lake,
laugh with the Sirens at their stories, shudder at the tales of
strange men cutting holes into the realm above.

This post is part of NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. Check out other great posts at BlogHer and yeah write.


6 thoughts on “Sometimes I Want to be a Tea-Drinking British Mermaid: “Return”

  1. Yes. The need to escape to a world where the sounds are softer, the lights are dimmer, the demands are more basic and slowed down–this is something I wish for on bad days.
    Great poem choice.
    Also, that photo makes me want to swim with the mermaids. Beautiful.

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