Magdalene & the Mermaids

Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Since completing her MFA at New College of California in 2004, Elizabeth Kate Switaj has published Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press), Shanghai (Gold Wake Press), and The Broken Sanctuary: Nature Poems (Ypolita Press). She is currently an intern for Irish Pages and a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University Belfast. Visit Elizabeth’s website.
“At the heart of this comprehensive collection lies the Biblical character of Mary Magdalene whose presence is prominent in many of the poems and who haunts those which are, ostensibly, departures from the subject matter that dominates. However, departure and digression are not the hallmarks of this work and each piece of writing represents a different incursion into the topic from angles and perspectives that are startling, original and engaging. By adopting an overarching motif, the author is able to align more personal topics and themes with the main focus, at times appearing to move into territory not evidently covered by the title but always providing the vital connection somewhere in this sequence of compositions.”
– Martyn James Colebrook
No one writes
            biographies of average mermaids
You know our lives
                 by our exceptions
         tails sliced to legs
       by loss of voice or cloak      no– skin
You know us– foolish & afraid
            choosing cold ocean lovelies
     over warm-haired arms
                      keep their damp inside
                   at least for most of life
   you think
            but would not carry
these creatures born with scales
                        that pinch skin between them
                            and smell of other fish
                 We’ve loved
Soft Coral Siren
I didn’t feel   when you cut out my spine
            I’d been throwing up all night
       couldn’t even smell the rust
                     until you told me     hold your hand
                                    or make you leave
           and I just rolled in setting stains, ecru sheets
Creatures bendable as me     only safe in sea
                        & still devoured  Every night
                       I rise to breathe
                             & hear you
        drop fire on my vertebrae
    You do not hear me sing  you
   I do not smell singed bone
or whatever sort of tear you give
  to keep my nerves encased in . . .
Magdalene’s Prayer
dye my hair red with wine
dye my robe red with wine
dye my flesh red with wine
                      & say I sinned of it
dye my lips red with wine
dye my name red with wine
dye my nails red with wine
                       & forget these hands lifted
                     your legs to let you breathe
                   as you died   nails through your wrists
from Magdalene & the Mermaids (Paper Kite Press, 2009)
Order Magdalene & the Mermaids.
Visit Paper Kite Press’s website.
Visit Elizabeth’s website.
Visit Irish Pages.

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