Siren Stories

Poems Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and Other Siren Stories

Illustration of “Kunft und Mammon,” by Fritz Hegenbart, c. 1900
Illustration of “Kunft und Mammon,” by Fritz Hegenbart, c. 1900

Lorelei’s Lesson

O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.”

-Sylvia Plath, “Lorelei”

Stone lungs are stronger than flesh
when water swells in them;
music needs no meaning,
only sound, and beauty
forgives no man for drowning
in want of a kiss. So, to leap
into the sea, to expect death.
To trust trust–such
an irresponsible thing.


A girl with legs—so vulnerable in the moonlight,
on the beach—naked beneath the gaze of a man
in fine clothes. Let me be, she cannot say, her tongue
severed at its root. But she can walk, her feet bloody
on the sand. She didn’t know how heavy his eyes
would be as they clung to her skin. She didn’t know
his fingers would stick and slime like barnacles. She
didn’t know that legs could buckle and shake, unused
as she was to gravity, unused as she was
to the weight of a body.

Illustration of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” by Anne Andersen, c. 1900

Pearl-Colored Foam

To lack an immortal soul is to lack soil,
a mineral embankment to arrest
the body while the spirit drifts skyward,
but to be a body–dissolved
in tide, the push and pull
of the moon’s magnetic dance
with the earth–is to be awash in color,
refracting light, speaking through
the gentle roar of a deep-breathing lung:
the voice of pearl-colored foam,
that glittering spray of skin cells
turned diamonds in the sun.


after Robin Behn

Daughter, I am tracing the dark
wells of your face

as you sleep. The creases
of your eyelids, the corners

of your mouth lifted like prayers
to me: unspoken, rippling

as your hand reaches up toward the surface,
fracturing the glass, your eyes, like eternities,

trapped beneath. My pond,
where beads of breath appear

when muscles relax and the mind drifts down
to before the unimagining.

Your dreams are ghosts in the water, sirens
calling to a past that never  was

anything more than a quickening pulse—Daughter,
forgive the man who filled his lungs with that rhythm.

How easy it is to become a stone, sunk to the bottom.

Illustration of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” by Edmund Dulac, 1911