Manatee

Trichechus

Streaked with a thousand yellow shoals –
islet flotsam; skim of sea –
the Great Bahama Bank rolls on
for mile upon mile of sand and key.

More shoal across the Straits of Florida.
And all around the Gulf of Mexico
a wide corniche of continental shelf,
the coastline of the manatee.

Strange manatee. Imagination made
a mermaid of her in the dreams
of salt-crazed mariners who feared
she’d drown them with her siren charms.

Absurd illusion! With her wrinkled hide
and whiskered snout, she’s gross and ponderous.
More of a grazing buffalo
or offshore hippopotamus.

In quiet coves she feeds on trailing weed –
trusses of herbage floating on the tide,
rhizome of mangrove, ocean grass.
Gently she holds her young calf to her side.

Harmless, she’s besieged with harm.
She’s on the edge. Extinction’s near
from hook and keel and poison scum.
It’s man, the mermaid has to fear.

– David Morphet 2004