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American Life in Poetry: ‘Tipping the Scales’

Kwame Dawes

By Kwame Dawes

The mermaid, curiously, is one of those mythological figures that remind us of the occasional moments of genuine “universality” in human experience. All around the world, she recurs in myths, folktales, poems and legends, fully formed, always complex and profoundly assertive of the feminine force in the world. Jessica Lee Alton, in her poem “Tipping the Scales,” gently guides us toward the unveiling of her version of the mermaid – petulant, dangerous, powerful, seductive and defiantly mysterious.

Tipping the Scales

She smokes in your face just to be like that

Never wants to give you free advice

Asks for a dollar, a drink, a ride home

Twirls a wet lock around her thumb

Pulls out her fin just so she can trip you

Can’t hide that smell, razor blades, salt shakers

She wants your love, grants nothing in return

Can’t control her voracious appetite

ingesting friends like trinkets-baubles-spoons

Tries to pull you in with her siren song

Lips move-no sound-broken karaoke

You strain to listen, end up in her mouth

She swims you with the salmon south then north

Drops you at a gas station dumbfounded

Steals your car drunk splashes water at the moon

As you walk, you wonder how she drives

with that scaly turquoise mercurial tail

Poem copyright 2021 by Jessica Lee Alton, “Tipping the Scales” from Ripe Literary Journal, Issue 01, October 2021. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.{&end}

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