Real Live Girls with Scales and Tails

Amy Durant

You think you can save me?
Honey, I drowned twenty years ago and have been
in a dead-man’s float ever since.

Mom sewed the tail on right here, the one with
four thousand three hundred and seventy-six
spangled sequins; here’s the scar.
Oh, you should have seen it catch the light.

It’s all redirection. Get the marks looking at your tits
and they believe anything, even that you’re half-woman,
half-fish. They want to run their fingers along your scales,
get in the brackish water with you, have you murmur
the lyrics to “Beyond the Sea” to them while they run
their office-softened hands over your body. For a fee,
anything was possible. We manufactured magic
with a sewing machine and some hair extensions.

The bearded lady just had PCOS and as long as she
didn’t take her meds she got kind of hirsute. The
geek had pica and the fat lady had a thyroid problem.
What passes for a sideshow these days is just a collection
of drifters off their meds avoiding the Affordable Care Act.

We’d all get together after we closed down and drink
ourselves sane. I always smelled like chlorine, no matter
how many showers I took, and was always crusted
with a fine coating of dime-store glitter. I’d wake up with the
sword swallower and think I was still drunk, he’d be
glinting in the sun, but really it’s just that a bunch of
that ubiquitous shit had rubbed off onto him when he was
rubbing one off into me. You could always tell who’d fallen
into bed with me the night before. It was tattooed across them
in bright dots of sparkly shame.

The World’s Smallest Woman
(who wasn’t, not really, you won’t tell, will you?)
swallowed a bottle of pills one night.
Left me a note saying “it hurts.” Never knew if she meant
herself, the pills, or life itself. Sometimes this keeps me
up at night. Sometimes I don’t think it matters;
it’s all the same thing, really. It all hurts, right?
Why does it all have to hurt so much? Doesn’t seem right.

You spend that much time in the tank, you start to wonder
if you belong there, if you’ve really got legs, after all.
Some nights I check and see if I do. I count them: one, two.
They’re still there, every time I check.
So far, anyway.

You’re so clean. I like that about you, but the divide
between us is so deep I can’t even see across.
You don’t know what it’s like to wake up at 3 a.m.
and not know what state you’re in, what town, who you are,
if you have lungs, gills, if your blood is warm or cold.

Not your fault you couldn’t save me. You tried.
Some of us were meant for something else
only found on the bottom and in the dark.
Some of us drown on dry land.


Amy Durant lives in upstate New York with a cat that thinks he’s a dog (or maybe a beaver) and works as the digital editor for an award-winning daily newspaper. She has been previously published in places such as 3Elements Review, Rose Red Review, and 200 Proof Magazine. Her book of poetry Out of True was published in 2012 and she won first place in the 2015 North County Writers Contest for her poem “Sagamore.” You can follow her on Twitter at @lucysfootball.