This web of scars on my face,
crawling down my neck in ribbons
and screaming over my shoulders,
was like the shadow of a shark, or
a reef of rotting coral
when I first came home:
my father hid his face and fled,
while my sisters shrank away
one by one, and the whole
kingdom grew silent in horror.
I kept the story to myself,
since nobody would listen.
The way the knots buried themselves
in my flesh, and the ropes ground the scales
from my skin, and the wooden boat
drove splinters through the canvas
of my back, and the humans
shouted in anger, while
water and fire fell from the sky
like whalebone spears and diving pelicans.
The three days of agony spent
choking on wet air, hungry,
bound up in rough nets that
tightened and grew colder every hour.
They came by at night, every one of them,
with fire in their hands, cursing at me
in their harsh language and
throwing broken glass at me
until I bled like the neverending rain, and it
pooled strangely beneath me—
all except for him.
He sat by me sometimes,
singing something that sounded strong
and steady, like the great currents
sweeping southward or
the salmon heading north
in spring. His hair was the color
of sand, shining silver in the moonlight
as he picked up the glass shards
around me, ignoring the cuts
they left on his palms.
When he dragged me from the dark
and opened his fishing knife,
gleaming wicked as an orca’s jaw,
I thought his kindness had run out, but
he only sliced the ropes and
hauled me over the side
with a salt-crusted kiss to my forehead.
I could hear the slightest bit of song
behind me as I swam away.
He arrived years later with
a tail and gills and a smile,
when my family had learned
to love me again, and the people had
grown used to a princess who
was less than beautiful.
He would not speak, or sing, but
held my face in his mangled hands,
where my long-healed scars, meeting his,
burned again for a moment,