|Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy, "The Mermaids"|
HOW TO MEND A BROKEN HEART WITH VENGEANCE
We stretched a ladder between our second-story
windows and tried to get the dog to go
across to see if it would hold but it didn't.
My ambivalence must have made the dog fall, I
called across to him. He picked up his tin can
and said, I can't hear you unless you speak
into the tin cans, remember? What did you just
say? Sono spiacente, I said. Nevermind. Slicha.
You are probably wondering now if the dog's okay,
but do you think you could stay with me, anyway,
even if I never gave you the answer? This was
so long ago, farther back than yesterday,
when you and I spoke for the last time. You said,
Why did you leave so early? And I said I couldn't
sleep and you asked me why I didn't tell you
at the time; you would have hit me on the head
with something hard. Let me ask you, could you
imagine a cloudless sky above a Nebraska plain?
Could you draw it? Could you imagine yellow birds?
Could you visualize the soft sound a door
makes when it closes and sticks and I thought I
had problems, but seriously, look at yourself.
Look. I had this incredible dream last night
and I'm not even going to tell you about it.
In Russia, the young girls who die violent deaths
either end up like birds in Pushkin or like fish
at the bottom of lakes, where they comb each other's
hair all night long, where they teach each other
the lyrics to every Talking Heads song
so they can lure sailors into their shadowy grottoes
and drown them. They say there once was a rusalka
who wished to be human so badly she gave up
her voice to be with her beloved and of course
he loved her because who wouldn't love a girl
who can't talk back, but then one night
at a masked ball he got distracted by a foreign princess
with an elegant neck and the rusalka was so despondent
she went to a witch and somehow communicated, I've
never been so unhappy in my whole life. What should I do?
And of course the witch told her to stab him with a dagger,
and of course the rusalka considered it. Like, seriously?
Seriously stab him with a dagger? But ultimately she
decided she would rather lose her human life and
go back to being an underwater death demon.
At least in the opera version the prince realizes
his terrible mistake and goes hunting for a doe
only to find the rusalka in her last moments and
kisses her knowing it means death and eternal
damnation. Here I am now, watching the moonlight
dance across the water in the retention pond, staring
at this scalpel and trying to forget your address.
Notes: Rusalki are the mermaids of Slavic mythology. They aren't just little mermaids who wish they could walk on land; they're actually the spirits of young women who die violent deaths. Like sirens, they like to entice men with song before they drown them. (Rusalka is also an opera.) Here's a fan letter I once got about this poem:
Convinced that we are underwater death demons, my friend Cristina and I have been reading and rereading "How to Mend a Broken Heart with Vengeance" for the past few weeks. I have attached an excerpt from our text message conversation re: rusalki above.
This poem was first published in DIAGRAM.