Monday, February 25, 2008


here's a new chapbook from New York poet Laura Hinton. The title makes reference to a literary work that some of my younger readers may not recognize. Here's the complete classic verse, which appears as a sort of refrain in Hinton's piece: "Ask any mermaid you happen to see, / "what's the best tuna?" "Chicken of the Sea."

and here's a passage from the chapbook:

She has the head of a woman and the body of a bird. A fish, the tail of a fish. She does not wear a mask

I am watching her swim and I am five years old. I have decided to call her Gloria. Gloria is gorgeous in
her tail and fins. A man on a loud speaker asks her to do something under the water. He does not call her
by name

Ask any mermaid you happen to see

I am reading while she's swimming. I am crouched down deep in the back floor of a 1960 Oldsmobile. We are driving around Lake Okeechobee on the way to Miami -I am five years old. We're driving around the lake in this 1960 Oldsmobile and I'm deep down in the pocket of the floor facing the back seat. The road winds around the lake, steep and slanting down towards the lake. I always think we're falling into the water. I think my whole family will drown. Somehow we always manage to get to Miami without drowning. My family is going to Miami to visit my distant cousin's family. My distant cousin is only three and has long black tresses her mother combs back into a pony tail. Every time I visit my distant cousin, I like to watch her mother comb my cousin's long tresses. My mother makes me cut my hair short. So I stick a nylon stocking on my head and pretend to have long tresses like my distant cousin. It feels right but looks ridiculous. Every morning the mother of my distant cousin combs her
long tangled hair back into a smooth wave

We never slide into Lake Okeechobee while driving around it in the Oldsmobile. But when I am eight and living in Rapid City, I read a Reader's Digest article about a woman who drives off the road around Lake Okeechobee and falls into the lake. She remains in the car with the windows rolled up. The water pressure holds the window panes tight. The woman can't get out. I read that she dies -not of drowning, but of suffocation

I learn to swim early. But I never learn to swim well. I only make the Minnow's Club at the downtown YMCA in Rapid City. I never pass the test for Fish. . . .

Laura Hinton's Ask Any mermaid is published by Tout Court Editions, Tenement Press. For more information, contact:

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