Kate Denereaz

Mélusine

 

On the stone sill from which
she leapt there’s an inscription
of her foot: big for a woman,
five toes, broad, eloquent bones.

Her husband locked the room.
It leached colour: the clothes pile
pilled to silt, the bedspread
was eaten through.

Stones began to fall. Green
air picked at the house
until it was a nest of holes,
fragile as a sponge skeleton.

When it all came down, grass
grew over it, red dead nettle.
They make a garden of it. I visit,
the only tourist in an empty town.

She got hers for audacity:
locking her father in a mountain.
Once a week, on Saturday,
she becomes serpent from the waist down.
That’s the pathology of her curse.
When her mother said the words
a distant part of her
split like damp paper, and
there were two: her and the hex.

At first she suffered in her skin,
three months with her right cheek
wet. Then she began to learn
the shimmer of nerves, graduated
to tanner. From a small box she unfurls
a strip of deer hide; mint to nose,
she makes of it
a looping, sparkling river.

When she meets Raymond, she’s
got sensation licked. He’s got
cast-down eyes. His touch is like
the brush of an electric eel.
The shock sets her tongue going:
my coney, we’ll be more
to each other than
hand on hand
spiriting into water.

No one in the Mélusine pizzeria
or the Mélusine beauty parlour.
No one in the garden – anodyne,
according to one reviewer.

A winterful of oak leaves binned
in her tower. One blackened
tea-light. Pretty much what
I imagined: no footprints or aura.

Back in the town the houses are
pale grey, tight-lipped. The trees
cut back seem pent for it,
each covered in gold-green moss.

They marry beside a tree.
She dips and twitches
like a dowsing rod.
Her jacket matches the leaves.
Their hands are wrapped
in ochre silk. Raymond’s face
is like a girl’s. She says she’ll
build him castles, bear him kings.
For this, she asks only one thing:
Saturdays to herself, no questions asked.

She raises palaces, has babies,
each stranger than the last.
One has a tooth like a fridge door,
another’s cheek bears the weight
of a lion’s paw.
Her skin’s warm broth
being a mother.

Don’t look in on me on Saturday.
Don’t hanker for the bright limestone
of La Rochelle. Don’t tell anyone.
Don’t look in the box in the attic
under the old beach towels. Don’t eat
my chips. Don’t say his name out loud.
Don’t tie a knot in this situation. Don’t pull at that
yellow thread, just there. Don’t play with your hair.
Don’t make a scene. Don’t shoplift.
Don’t stare. Don’t let a man get the better
of you, or a woman. Don’t you dare.

Behind the door, in clouding water,
Mélusine lay. Saturday spent
in the bathhouse
unwinding.
Eyes closed, shapeless pool of colour,
tang of seashore on her lips.

Needlepoint quiet. At the base
of her breath,
the shud of sea. Miles of distance,
not a living thing.
Her skin limestone,
dissolving.

Voices at the water’s edge:
babies, hands full
of bladderwrack. Swift
collapse
of worry. She rinses her hair,
stewing over her babies.

Kicks her tail into questions,
flicks water
to the ceiling to see
the patterns, liquid sound
pinballing. The mirror
steams over her reflection,
behind the door.

Ear to the door,
he hears geometry: two bodies.
The room’s his heart,
its tall chambers, dark ceiling.

He knows his heart.

My host asks if I found the spirit
of the fée. I found a good pâtisserie.
I bought a religieuse and ate it
in sticky-fingered privacy.

The whole town sheet mirror,
river, rain-slicked windows,
glassy eyes. I was looking for
stones or words or something.

I was looking to walk
the bodies out. Arms that move
without movement, a foot resting –
partly – on a foot.

He looks, of course. Who wouldn’t
bring a story to its natural end?
Cross the line. Shatter the sea-mark.
He stops the hole, wears her soul
about his shoulders like a damp towel.

Keeps quiet until what he’s seen
burrows up into his mouth:
he calls her serpent, phantom.
It lands, she folds.
Their story or spell
or whatever its name unlinks
from her body, and goes.

Wet her face when she jumps
splits open to reveal
a new face. Is it more lovely –
pupils slits, jaw a vessel.

Cold two wings unfold,
scaled like a shipwreck.
She starts to puzzle
herself into this.

Porous as before, words
drain. What’s left:
her voice, and a part
so small, it almost.

Earth and water she
couldn’t scratch her name
into a wall. This tower
exists for threat.

North and west, in wind,
her voice, a net,
catches fish,
slams them into stone.

Unbounded the ways she
makes herself known:
soars up from the sea,
along the wall’s curve

clatters through grills,
swings open my head,
breaks into
a high, wailing wind.

Mutable if you ever
struggled to divide a human
from some stirred-up air,
you’ve met Mélusine.

 

Kate Denereaz completed a Faber Academy course in poetry in 2016 and has been writing most days since. She’s a freelance writer and subedits for The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Middle East and Africa team, and has a BA in English from UCL.