University of Southern Indiana

anything that wasn't a dugong

Erika Meitner

we went to the aquarium
each year and pressed

our palms to the tank-fronts.
the halls were enveloped

in dusk, and everything else
was lit from within.

is not irrelevant

to the fact that on television
all we need to leave behind

is the smallest smudge
to be identified positively

in a database. sunrise
over the bridge and a siren—

always a siren in the distance.
for some crimes

we can ask forgiveness,
but for others, there are

no words. a child
picks out a nose, a hat,

a silhouette on screen
to make a face.

when sailors reported
seeing mermaids

 they were probably
seeing manatees

or dugongs instead.
mermaid, siren, sea nymph—

are you tied to the mast
of a ship speeding past

an entire city calling neon,
or are you gentle—glacial, even?

some nights we sleep
under orange skies

with go-bags, with heaps
of supplies and pray

morning is less scary
than we think it might be.

some nights we wonder
where the startled creatures

go in large storms
when the aquarium tanks

fill with brackish water quickly
and the fish have gone missing

and the proud roller coasters
are swept under—

when whole neighborhoods
smolder from embers

carried on the wind
that fix under shingles.

you are/i am anything
but a dugong, a manatee

something from the order
of sirenians, a sirenia,

a genus, a species, a classification;
this group moves slow,

can be harmed. i know it now—
we all can be harmed.

Erika Meitner Bio Pic Color

Erika Meitner is the author of three books of poems: most recently, Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (Anhinga Press, 2011) and Ideal Cities (HarperCollins, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. Her poems have been published in The New RepublicVQRTin House, The Best American Poetry 2011, and elsewhere. A fourth collection of poems, Copia, is due from BOA Editions in 2014. Meitner is currently an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program.


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