Coral Bones

Romey Petite

I lay down flat on the jetty boards,
With my pole and spool of twine,
Tied one end to a wriggling pink worm,
And let daylight slip ’til ev’ntime.

Many years have thus been spent,
And beauties in the very same way.
I’ve called many a woman a lover,
But not a one decided to stay.

A maiden almost dragged me down.
It was I that cut and run.
I wonder what’s become of the girl
—and reflect on what I’d done.

We always met in secret,
Just far enough from land.
After rocking the rowboat together—
She began talking of wedding plans.

I told her that we could not be,
I was a fishman, I said, bound to roam.
In old age I regret I’m left with salt tears,
as I watch waves roll and foam.

It was the way she clung to me
that filled my heart with fright,
I was much younger then—and haven’t
seen her since that fated night.

An hour after tying bait—I feel a bite.
A nibble hooked on my sunken line.
I opened slow one drowsy eye,
To see a fish so strange, so fine.

Playing the twine like a fiddlestring,
She’d loosed me from my sleep.
Now round her finger she took me—
brought me closer—within her reach.

I would not go easy into the black water,
And wouldn’t be drowned without a fight.
I’d heard many such stories of sailors,
While comforting widowed fishwives.

This was not just any sea-born beast,
As you may, by now, have gathered.
She reminded me of a lass I’d known,
And had curves where it mattered.

I cannot pretend a fishman’s pride
was why I decided to stay.
The woman’s beauty was the reason
I refused to free my catch or run away.

I have no wife to mourn me,
No living family left to weep,
And far as I know in my roving,
No son for my name to keep.

Those fish-webbed hands were strong
as any I’d wrestled on harbordeck,
—they pulled me over dock’s edge,
then held me fast ’round the neck.

Gently, she took me by the head,
Then turned my cheek and drew it near.
The words she spoke were in song
and began to whisper in my ear,

“I know your story wicked man,
how you buried wife-to-be at sea.
You did not know she was with child,
And the deep gave birth to me.”

“How?” I gasped, spitting brine and spume,
but knew who it was she meant.
The very maiden that begged me to elope,
long ago—without her parent’s consent.

“Until first gasp of air a baby is
Less man of the earth than fish
‘How did I survive my mother’s death?’
To fulfill her dying wish…”

A daughter took her father for a last dance.
Down to the wine-dark depths.
Before I drowned, I saw my lover’s bones.
Coral flowers bloom where she rests.

Among the flotsam, I’m a minnow’s feast—
a fitting punishment for misdeeds and lies.
From seabed, I watch boys brought to join
the debris—with sockets that were eyes.



Romey Petite loves reading and writing fairy tales, myths, and short stories that blend the sacred and mundane. Romey’s fiction has been published in 3Elements Review, and Scott Thrower’s podcast Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children. She also recently ran a 100% funded crowd-funding campaign for her illustrated novel Spiderella: The Girl Who Spoke with Spiders.