* * *
“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses
* * *
Older than the ocean floor she slithers across,
the sea-witch rummages between her cartilaginous breasts
for the shell that stores the latest tongue
and voice in her collection.
Not the first fish I taught to waddle onto land,
she snorts to the anemones.
Not likely to be the last, neither—
and every damn one of ’em convinced
evolution’s just a party trick.
A ploy to meet cute boys.
She’d outdone herself on this one, too:
No talking. No singing. No dancing
without the girl feeling like there are razors
in her shoes.
Absolutely NO take-backs.
Settling her head into the wattles of her throat,
the sea-witch peers, sightless, into the cold ocean night.
Can’t nobody say as I didn’t warn her,
she harrumphs quietly, before pulling the tongue
from its shell and taking
a first bite.
END-NOTE: I have long thought of The Little Mermaid as one of the more cruel and telling fairy tales Patriarchy has gifted us with yet: a young girl gives up her ability to speak, and agrees to excruciating physical pain, simply as the price of seeking love? It ain’t no mere ensorcelling that nabs her voice, either. The sea-witch literally cuts her tongue out. And then our mermaid princess can’t even score the love she sought! Not only does she not get the “happily ever after” Disney grants its Ariel and her thrilling-as-wet-toast prince; in Hans Christian Andersen’s original, her “happy ending” consists of turning into a vacuous “Spirit of the Air” and finding herself tasked with blowing cooling breezes at humans for the next 300 years, in order to earn herself a soul.
(Maybe it’s just me, but by year 75, I figure I’ve turned my back on the whole “gonna get me a soul” dream and am just praying to be turned back into sea foam. Even the most self-abnegating emotional laborer’s gotta find three centuries a bit long, no?)
Anyhoo, that’s been my read on this little ditty about a fish and her prince since forever…until I recently came across a compellingly different take.