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POEM: Mermaids in the Milk Aisle

Mermaids in the Milk Aisle

By Celeste Rose Wood

 

He was created in the refrigerated unit. He walked out

fully formed past yogurts, past gallons of milk, past cottage cheese,

 

dreamt into being by the dairy aisle. Outside may be lit in sun

but in the dairy aisle illumination is always fluorescent.

 

Milk aisles are ignorant of darkness. Rhythmless,

they sleep and wake on whim. Shoppers pass through respiratory alcoves

 

unknowing if they navigate a conscious beast or the bowels of a dreaming aisle.

Some stock boys come to work by way of birth canal, others are holograms

 

projected from the cracks under stock room doors. This stock boy

is built of dim visions, odd flashes leaking out under stock room eyelids.

 

He murmurs to shoppers of hidden, milky things, mermaids

curled up like taily homunculi in molecules of lactose, casein.

 

What is an animal called that lives in milk, liquid-bound but not aquatic?

Likely lactic. Can pasteurization be harmful to lactic mermaids or are they

 

hardy agents of putrefaction? Will they one day spoil the milk? If someone –

for instance, this stock boy – careers toward mermaid study

 

is he an ichthyologist, an anthropologist, or an icthyanthropologist?

What about respiration? What about reproduction?

 

Gills and swim bladders or homologous lungs? Must a mermaid surface to breathe?

I asked him how scales and roe are stitched together with mammary glands.

 

Sex is an external confetti toss of gametes. Where two types mingle

embryos bud beneath translucent membranes. Mother and father

 

can watch dark eye spots form, fins and fingers. When larvae hatch, they carry

yolk sacs at their bellies. Most are swallowed by sundry mouths,

 

most are plankton. Those not consumed will consume

milk from their mothers’ breasts. I said, how many young will be mermen?

 

He said, sequential hermaphroditism. Most will always be mermaids.

Only death of the dominant merman will cause the largest mermaid in his harem

 

to transform her ovaries to testes. I said, where do you keep the quarts of one percent?

He said, you know there are mermaid eggs in all of this, the butter,

 

the puddings, the sour cream? They don’t survive your stomach.

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