Mary McCall

The Mermaid's Mother

I should have known when waves would push against
my growing frame and she'd kick back. At times,
sand would fall from sheets that hung on lines
that afternoon, and I became convinced
she timed her morning cries to the high tide.
I fed her sweet potatoes, roasted yams,
to keep her rooted--only, minnows swam
in baths before sand dollars sprung beside
her pillow. Now, I watch her string sea glass
shards together, planning how to tell her
of early days I spoke with porpoises
before the shy man hooked me with his laugh--
but she dives into waves and cannot hear
as her fins slip beneath teal surfaces.

The Mermaid's Daughter

My bathtub birth preceded fins at two.
My first wave sent me somersaulting, head
over heels and spitting sand; some have said
my eyes turned green that day. My mother knew
I was no longer hers--the waves became
a rhythmic pulse throughout my dreams, the surf
my heartbeat. It is only near the wharf
where I rehearse my mother's old refrain
to lure young men with songs I share: I sing
with sirens. Once on land, my breathing stills
like catfish trapped beneath the ice in days
of winter. I taste salt in everything.
At night, my mother checks my neck for gills.
Her fish, reborn within the womb of waves.

Home Front Sestina

Mama saved our stamps for the gebäck
for so long I was sure my tongue
would go numb from dry toast and oatmeal.
The paper-wrapped parcels she brought home
were Christmas presents enough: flour,
eggs, butter, and sugar. Even cinnamon

and chocolate. I watch her cinnamon
curls sway as her fingers mold gebäck
dough into stars and circles with flour-
stained hands, singing carols in her mother tongue,
words we're only allowed to say at home.
They feel chewy in my mouth, like oatmeal

raisin cookies, kekse. Mama uses oatmeal
instead of fruit in our stollen, but cinnamon
stars cool beside the pine Papa brought home
that we'll string with Christbaumgebäck
ornaments. Warm crescents melt on my tongue
with the vanilla aroma of a spring flower

that wilts before icy stares from flour-
faced kids with brown sugar in their oatmeal.
They hail my approach, words on their tongues
that make my cheeks burn and flush cinnamon.
Scrawled notes on my desk tell me to Go back
to Germany
while my brother is away from home,

warring with American boys against the home
of our grandparents. Does Peter picture flour
sacks instead of sand bags to help him get back
to sleep, only to wake up to watery oatmeal
in his Bugs Bunny trenches? Can he taste cinnamon
after months of mud and nicotine on his tongue?

There are times when I stick my tongue
out at Uncle Sam on my way home
from school. He points at my cinnamon-
hot words that I hope stick in his floury
beard for my brother, for the oatmeal,
for me: heimat, familie, und gebäck.

In the cinnamon sunset, with a burning tongue
from fresh gebäck, I write to Peter on oatmeal
paper dusted with flour--a reminder of home.

The Night We Learned You Have Alzheimer's

I want to backstroke through your thoughts
and poise en pointe as your waves lift
my waist in weightless moments
to settle down on sand that drifts

beneath my toes. And as you shift
in sheets that undulate around
you, I will hold shells to my ear
and listen to your even sounds

of slumber. I want to sift through
your layers of sand with my sieve
until I find the clams which cup
your pearly memories and give

way to my touch. Do you recall
the day you met me on the beach?
The sunlight dribbled down our chins
like tart juice from a fresh-plucked peach.

Surrounded by oiled, sun-soaked skin,
you said I looked like Venus with
sea water dripping down my back
in rivulets and salt-laced lips--

but Botticelli's tempera
itself could never render how
your laugh made even seagulls pause,
how the morning tide would slow

at your approach before it found
another way to smear those names
toed along the surf. I'll find you
mouthing out those old sounds sometimes

in the soft, salmon-colored dawn,
as if the fish-hook scar below
your chin could angle just one trace,
just one echo. How could we know

that time would curl upon itself
like conch shells? I will string our day
around my neck as children do
with shells discovered by the bay

and let you feel its ridges,
to remind you that I'm still here--
until that moment I become
a girl with seaweed in her hair.


A New Jersey native, Mary McCall is pursuing her Ph.D in rhetoric and composition at Purdue University where she also teaches first-year composition. Her work has been nominated twice for Best of the Net and her poem, "The Woods of the Misses Lonelyhearts," was selected as the January 2010 Best of the Issue for Thick with Conviction. Her poetry has appeared in work to a calm, Decompression, Chantarelle's Notebook, The Storyteller, and elsewhere.


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PAFA After Dark
Marilyn Nelson and Sonia Sanchez participating in the women poets roll call, March 21, 2013

>Mezzo Cammin hosted the third anniversary of The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project on Thursday, March 21 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, as part of its PAFA After Dark series and in affiliation with its exhibition The Female Gaze. Featured readers included Rachel Hadas, Marilyn Nelson, and Sonia Sanchez.

>Mezzo Cammin Awards Scholarship at West Chester Poetry Conference: Nausheen Eusuf.

>The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project Turns "40."

>The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project Panel at Celebrating African American Literature (CAAL) 2013, Penn State University, October 25-26.

Elana Herzog: In all of my work curiosity and pleasure are driving forces. The materials I use are often cheap, discarded household items that challenge conventions of taste and beauty. They draw attention to how art and design migrate throughout culture, from high to low and back again. My imagery traverses the language of abstract art, and that of the domestic and industrial landscape. Increasingly the work reflects my desire to understand the relationship between Modernism and the legacy of industrial and technological progress that permeates contemporary culture.
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