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March 15, 2023

The Siren Myth

Leslie Cairns

I make my cheeks into apples;

I fall in love near maypoles: pink and peach and saccharine nectar. My Mom tells me—solemnly—my chest is too big, and I look in the mirror and deflate. Wondering what this means, what this means. She says the boys will stare too long, and by dressing in

Red it won’t be pretty.

You see, I learned by fifteen, that standing up for yourself isn’t

Beautiful. I learned that winged eyeliner, and girls in flocks, and cat-like whispers are the staple. And then you flew, we all flew—

to different colleges, and my friends got engaged: diamonds for days. & I wondered

If I still had lashes that could unfurl someone. If I still had a belly laugh that would make

The Virginias of the world sing with me. & then she placed her arm on my wrist; she flew into a stampede on my bathmat, singing Taylor Swift’s songs, curvy & perfect & flat—

She told me that I was pretty much

The only one she could love. & no she was not what I grew up with. My Mom would not approve.

We were postcards,

But this love in front of me was Rapunzel, untwirling her hair. She wasn’t fable; she was

Cascading and cupping my face as if she meant to, as if I belonged with her. Damp foot

Near steamed food, the coffee percolating in the next room. I would not get engaged with dudes that gymmed. I would not cry because I could not fit into

The way we were told to hold our bellies with canaries in birdcages, to blush in dresses that only zipped up, so eyes could linger in the crevices.

She was feminist. & she was kissing me softly, and my fists were furrowing and then opening. I trusted her from the beginning—

We watched the lies my mom told me fly in campfire wisps, blackened and spinning in the

Star-crossed air, in the summer we taught each other

Our names, tongues forming cherries,

Unplanning trips made for us. Daydreaming for days. She told me that my horoscope sign was a crab. I cringed and hid and she peeled apart my fingers from my eyelids. Dusted with white and moss green, clamped on to show her I love swamps, and kissing frogs, and turning into myself at nightfall.

She said back to me, freckles flouncing up her nose:  no, you don’t get it. Pulled a hair from my head, slicked with sweat,

Near my brow.

The crabs have a soft belly; they feel everything and they take in the poisons if they don’t protect themselves. So, they hide—

They hide, she said. Smiled wide, redid her hair in a high ponytail, like Ariana did. Kissed me until the world and the answer she was about to say, changed.

Fluttered down like snow in summer—

So they only come out for the love that calls to them, tied to the moon and the ocean tides. Vertical sunsets, rising the way that doesn’t make sense, but does.

They only find love when they feel it.

They take the undertows of love and come up with

Scuba-diving secrets when they kiss you—

I laughed at her then. Her seeing me as magical, moonlit, stopping time

In ocean’s movements. She looked at me, brow furrowed. I’m serious.

You loving me means you chose me over all the other


I’m the riptide you had to hold onto, and I’ll always

Anchor myself to that.

She winked & I guffawed and stared at her, daring her to come closer. I’d never been described in zodiac, in unzipped words that find yourself longing—of course—for more.

We kicked ourselves back onto the comforter my great grandmother gave me. She never knew I would kiss like this, and there, and just there

& safely & with girls

& with ponytails

& a place without hardness. I whispered to her in summer solstice;

I crescendoed in riptides; I found a solace in

The way I walked sideways, barefoot near the water—just to see you

Smile. Gurgle like a siren, water drops sighing as they escape down

Your siren  smile, dribbling down the laugh lines near your chin.


LESLIE CAIRNS (She/her) holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado and loves her two dogs, especially the dramatics of her husky. She has upcoming flash, short stories, and poetry in various magazines (Cerasus Magazine, Final Girl Zine, Swim Press, Londemere Lit, Ilinix Magazine). Twitter: @starbucksgirly

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