Two Poems by Merna Dyer Skinner


We once held beads of mercury in our palms,
rolled them around our bowls of skin and bone,
ignorant of the poison at hand. I stored mine
in a wooden box on my bedroom shelf. No warning
on the vial sent from Michigan’s Farm Bureau—
one of three samples—the second, a tapeworm
floating in fluid, the third, I’ve forgotten.
That same summer, I climbed to the roof
of a picnic pavilion and jumped—unaware
of earth’s mass, my mass, and force.
No adults witnessed my leap—when my parents asked,
as the doctor wrapped my swelling ankle,
I couldn’t explain why I thought I might land softly,
or confidently assumed I could fly.



It’s not how Cézanne’s bright white linen upstages
the ebony clock without hands,
nor how the porcelain saucer and cup teeter
on the table’s edge, but how the ruby-lipped conch
might snarl, might grab my fingers
were I to reach in—

a Florida day—I’m standing in our skiff,
anchored in the shallows off Big Pine Island, sea
mirror-smooth, sky so bright my stinging eyes
squint. In that crystal water, my goggled sons snorkel.
My laughing mother calls to me—
Put down the camera. Jump in.

Warm water engulfs, softly
my foot lands on the sandy seafloor—
Barely a second passes before the blow.
Heavy and hot as gunshot—
two punctures, cut deep into my swim fin,
burning venom pulses up my thigh.

Blood-ribbons swirl to the surface,
wrap themselves around my wrists.
I roll onto my back, raise my foot skyward—
Overhead, a seagull floats on timeless air.
From beneath the seabed (my sons witness)
a stingray unburies its massive black wings.


Merna Dyer Skinner (she / her) is a poet, photographer, and communications consultant living in Portland, OR. Her poems have appeared in: The Baltimore Review, Rust + Moth, Lily Poetry Review, Naugatuck River Review, Cirque, Sulphur Surrealist Jungle (Featured Poet), among other journals, and three anthologies. Her chapbook, A Brief History of Two Aprons, was published by Finishing Line Press. Merna holds an MA in Communication Studies from Emerson College. She’s lived in six U.S. states, and traveled to six continents.

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