The Drowned Town

by Gemma Files

--For Sonya Taaffe

What Dahut knows (now):

How the sea makes a bad husband
but the Devil a worse lover.
The perfidy of fathers
and the mercilessness of saints.
Just how far down a fall
from a horse's back may take you.

This is wisdom,
cold and deep --
the longest embrace,
crushing air from lungs,
light from air.
Narcotic rapture, hard truth,
pulls her into darkness
where night's vast trench engulfs her.
And at the very bottom

Her mother's smokeless flame
lights up the drowned town's windows
while her coils fill up its floors;
its scaly towers, coral-grown,
like thorns,
provide her only crown.
She receives no visitors --
sends out the occasional
chandelier of memory,
brief gelid visions of
her topside self, set like lures
to drift between currents.

How Dahut looks (now):

Nothing like them, anymore;
nothing like you.
All pearl skin
and flat shark's eyes --
hair like kelp, trailing miles long,
Her fin-feet flutter
as she hovers above the murk,

The tide steals her voice,
translates it to
wrack and loss, white noise, rock-riven.
An ell on every side,
whales and skates cringe from it--
rays flee, flapping like sails.
Eels and sea-snakes knot so tight
they strangle each other.

But her song is not meant for them, anyhow.

Where Dahut lives (now):

Deep, and deeper.
Neck-high in the silt
of centuries.
She can still be sought
by those who brave the gulfs,
but only at a cost.

Above, a bathysphere descends
over the shelf-lip,
an iron moon setting.
Below, she waits.
In Dahut's sunken city,
the drowned town, Ys,
the slimy streets are paved
with shell and longing.
The sea her husband
makes a jealous (if a careless)
spouse --

and a red-armored
skeleton horse roams
the caverns nearby,
its rider carrying
a prehistoric fish
perched on one wrist
like a hooded hawk,
with his helmet rusted shut.

Gemma Files has been a teacher, movie reviewer and screenwriter; she remains a writer, wife and mother. She is the author of two short story collections and two chapbooks of poetry, and is currently hard at work finishing her first novel, A Book of Tongues. Her favorite fruit is the apple, preferably Braeburn or Gala.

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