I have not seen the ocean, I’ve never been to the sea; so, imagine that I, who am devoted, have been in pain, all this time. That I have struggled to the miniature shore of a pond—small, frog-filled.
Since I was a little boy, I stumbled through the dense woods, stumbled through thickets, and tricks and found this little place; the pond has been my western shore, and when I saw it, I was taken by the water.
There is a man living in the water, he is not very tall. His skin is green in sunlight, his skin is blue in moonlight, and his tears have fallen and filled up the little pond.
There is a man in the water with long dark hair that is green in the moonlight, green in the sunlight, too. Reeds grow over and around his feet. I did not know the man was there until I turned to an older age when my father said (and my mother said) (and my grandmother said), “Boy, you are a man, now.” “Boy, you are seventeen.”
Until then I did not know about the man in the pond.
Seventeen, when I saw the man, small and green, and blue in the moonlight. His face was smooth, the water did not wrinkle, did not crease any part of his complexion—a boy I thought, but he was a man. Seventeen, and you are a man.
Twenty, when I see the man again, his eyes swirling depths, murky, his hair pushed aside slipping over ripples in the pond. There is a boy back home with those same eyes. He did not like it when I called him beautiful.
But the man in the pond does not respond when I call him the same, until there is a small pebble thrown at my head when I turn to leave. There is a man, I see him and stare at my own reflection in the pond; his eyes are murky, his hair long and green in the sunlight.
Trees grow over the pond; leaves fall caressing the surface. A hand breaks the ripples in the water and pulls the leaf down. I think the little man has leaves for breakfast, leaves for lunch… my heart for dinner.
I have been told (by my father) (by my mother) to stay away from the water, no good comes out of the pond in the woods.
But I have not seen the ocean. I’ve never been to the sea. I only have the little pond for me, so imagine my devotion when he breaks the surface, when he stands tall in front of me. There are leaves in his hair, green in the moonlight.
When he beckons me forward, when he leans in for a kiss, when he drags me under,and I am taken by the water.
There is a man living in the water, and I am taller, and my eyes are blue in the moonlight. I eat leaves for breakfast, leaves for lunch. I eat for dinner the heart of my beloved.
In the small pond we rest, and we wait for more hearts to fill with water.
Author’s Comments: “Nykken” is inspired by the Scandinavian myth of ”Nøkken” or ”Näcken”. According to legend, Nøkken dwells in bodies of water such as ponds, bogs and lakes, and lures in victims to drown them. Typically depicted as a man playing a fiddle, Nøkken is also at times in the shape of a horse or another four-legged animal.
Growing up with the story, the ‘man in the water’ always scared and fascinated me in equal parts. The poem is an attempt at putting a queer spin on the myth, with the monster being a representation of the outcasts of society, creating their own world with its own rules.
Nikoline Kaiser resides in Denmark and studies Literature at Aarhus University. They have previously worked as an editor at campus and have written and published several pieces including the poem “ode to an asexual” with Strange Horizons. They are a queer author writing themes of family, feminism, and the natural world.
Editor’s Notes: Artwork—Noekken (Tumblr/Ouran90)