Sand Mermaids

My mother is walking in the garden,

her bare feet are calloused

and covered in dirt,

her toenails painted red.

The hem of her sundress is wet from the water pail

and her skin is sticky with sweat,

but her hair smells of the honeysuckles

that grow wild on our chain-link fence

and the gardenias in the walkway

that my sister and I pick

and float in chipped teacups on our bedside tables.

I am five years old and watching her

through the kitchen window.

She hears me tap on the glass and smiles

from over her shoulder.


My mother is in her makeshift art studio,

an old wooden desk in the corner

of our screened-in back porch.

Her hair is bundled into a knot

that sits on top of her head.

Her hands are covered in papier-mâché,

busy sculpting a sad face.

A cigarette rests between her pink lips,

ashes falling into her lap.

I am six years old and waiting for her

on the weathered porch steps,

picking at my scabbed knees,

giving her just five more minutes

for the fifth time.


My mother is on the beach in a white bathing suit,

a blue hat shading her sun kissed face.

She is building a sand mermaid,

curious people stop to watch.

My sister and I are on the shoreline,

collecting seaweed for the mermaid’s hair.

I am nine years old and walking towards my mother,

my feet sinking into the cold sand.

Her eyes are green like the ocean,

her hair is blonde and curly like mine.


My mother is tired in the kitchen,

wearing her floral nightgown.

I watch the thin straps press

into the tops of her shoulders

as she reaches into the high cabinets

to put away the glass dishes. 

I am thirteen years old and motionless,

with a strange emptiness in my stomach

that makes me miss her,


somehow realizing that

like the spring flowers that wither in the summer heat,

the papier-mâché faces that fall from tall bookshelves,

the glass dishes that break on tile floors,

and the sand mermaids that wash away

in the morning tide,


my mother, too, is impermanent. 


  1. Great combination of beauty and sadness

  2. Reblogged this on Jean Byrne.

  3. So so beautiful, and moving.
    My mother is an artist too, and somehow, maybe, that eases some of the hurt of impermanence?
    And maybe not.
    But I love running my fingers over her oils and living each piece of art with her – marking time together…

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