• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 03
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Concerns

I had never heard of selkies until She came along. She, who came bearing offerings of what looked like Friendship, explained them, those mythical shapeshifting creatures, to me. A sucker for an easy smile and a familiar air, I should have known better than to think our fast-formed amity was safe. Too quick, too soon.

She wanted to fight with me over the Ocean, her changing demeanor ebbing and flowing, pushing and pulling like the tides. No one had hidden her skin. But she wanted me to hide mine. She, who once was so quick with a kind word or gesture, released her squall of bitterness and belittlement to a level deeper than the fathoms of our short (and shallow) friendship. Her briny words flowed, too quick, too soon, from a place I was unaware of, had never been to but had bypassed on many occasions. I searched myself for fault, for greed, for faux-pas, and insensitivities—I did not want to fight about the water.

No one owns the Ocean.

No one owns our souls.

I was worried about the laughing, barking seal changing back into a scorned woman, about the transformation from friend to Fear—of myself and others.



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1

Mindful escapism?

There is a sense of escapism when we’re having a bath—it’s a sanctuary of sorts where nothing and no one are allowed to penetrate, and what matters is only what we choose to bring in with us—a book, lit candles, music, or sometimes, nothing... Letting our minds wander as we soak in the heat feels like such a luxury. Sweat mixing with bubbled bath providing a release, a detox from the world.

And yet, I do my best thinking during a bath. Don’t you?

It doesn’t matter if my mind brings me to faraway, fantastic places—I revel in them! What’s wonderful is that I’m always able to sort out issues that have been bugging me, niggling away in my mind, just from a good soak.

I learnt to love the ritual of a bath even more during my time in Japan, where onsen visits marked every occasion there, from wonderful holidays to fun-filled theme park visits, to a relaxing moment after an exciting and tiring day taking part in a mikoshi matsuri. The moment I was at an onsen, the ritual would take over as if on autopilot, followed by an hour or so of reflection and bliss.

In the speedy world that we live in today, our bathroom seems to have become the only space where we would permit ourselves time—to clean, groom, refresh, think—to escape mindfully! So, why not make the most of it? Let mermaids and seals join us in our views of white cliffs while slippery kelp tickles our legs, inviting the list of chores and emails to slowly disappear…

2

Seal Team

These are the hours where erosion takes the background

A withdrawal at 4am
and soap is a delicate question between your toes

Hours at the body
where steam drops its attic ladder
reveals the smuggled amphibian feeding on minutes

When you told me you’d do violence for me
I knew concern was a toy duck
barely holding its yellow

Between these teeth is the butter knife clenched with as much strength
           as the allegorical skin shows
when it turns its back on the acrylic of your knee

These are the hours where the protagonist peaks only half his face above the water
This post-60s action trope lets the viewer know the soldier has the right experience
to successfully raid the enemy encampment

This is the wash you consider stealth beneath the swamp
bankcard three lines into perfect symmetry and steep commando
in a conspiracy of frog spawn

Trust me when I say this is not the time to rinse the camouflage from your marrow
This soft architecture
was never designed to have underwater capabilities
or reflect any fucked notion of green

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3

Carrying the Mystery

We watch you toss and turn,
a hidden magic,
already anxious to join us and have a voice.
There is music to your dance in my belly.
Your future guitar strumming begins
with this primal rhythm in the womb.
The ocean wave movements
of tiny fists and feet inside me
mimic the depths of tub water,
undulating back and forth,
my daily, lukewarm to be safe, soaks.

A yellow duck I bought months ago
when the test came back with two,
beautiful blue lines, sits waiting, patiently,
just like us.

Your father reads a book to me about
the size of your growing fingernails,
as steam gently floats around us.
The mirage of our past hiking trip
appears at my pruned feet.
I daydream about tuna baguettes
with poppyseeds, our reward
for reaching the tarn and England’s brave sheep
at the top of a smaller mountain.

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4

Gulliver’s Wife

It is not commonly known that Gulliver had a wife
but she accompanied him on all his journeys
and Lilliput was her favourite place.
Swift never wrote about her.
Perhaps he found her just too daring,
even though she was careful
to be on her best behaviour
and hide her painted nails
in public places.
When alone she didn’t care.

She wiggled them with joy
each time she took a bath.
Only the Lilliputian sea creatures
were invited to join her.
She loved to watch them
as they played in the water.
Which came first, she wondered,
the mermaid or the seal.

She tried to work it out.
They told her it didn’t matter,
was no importance.
Having fun was what mattered,
wiggling and jiggling in the water,
size didn’t matter either.
She could only agree.

5

Another, Sure

What steam, drenched dreaming in the fun
flop frolic tales aquamarine
a duck billed platy, yellow sun.
Boat brimful bails out siren calls
paint pointy toes rest overflow
two flat soles firm, enamelware.
Noisette whirl sprinkles, sugared frost
all swirling by akimbo legs
brill heat without the inlet mists.
It swings by swimmy drowse on sand
for dozing, safe, white berry wine
far infant laughter, drift delight.
You sense the saturate of scent
delicious to anticipate
exotic oils to spread abroad.
The lexicon with bubble-bath
a frothy stealing, fresh razed legs
wet poring over tingled skin.
Gold rainbows stirring rippled crocks
down rolling channels, 'stemper walls
it’s here perspire allowed to sweat.
Rhythm, some folk exhilarates
or flashing lights to titillate
as lightweight limb float, splash about
space, water, rest predominate.

6

A Land Emergent

Dolphins caress my inner thighs
with velvet-slick skin while sea otters
and seals slide in riots down my shins
to dive blind into lilac-scented water.

Schools of shy fish idle in the concave
depths of my armpits while. eels spiral
my wrists in silver bands of light.

Faint with steam and weightless in the tub,
I slide my foot along the smooth enamel basin.
My leg bends and emerges into the cool air.
A bony island redoubt, my knee juts
above the surface, waves breaking all around me.

I gather the world, flesh bounded by water and air—
an archipelago risen
from the depths
a clustering of protuberances
in an aquatic sphere.

Upon the promontory of my thigh
a sister mermaid reclines,
tail fins stirring the bluish, soapy bath.
A song slips wet from her lips to coil
damp and heavy along my limbs.

Read more >
7

Therianthropy

In this new year, I could shed
my selkie skin to dance under
moonlight on lonely shore,
but at what cost?

Water is life,
salt buoys my body.
The toll of transformation --  
painted toes in ruby tones,
limbs outstretched, entwined,
dark curls unfurled.

My sisters watch with baleful eyes,
heads bob just over sea’s surface.

The bonds once broken a siren call --  
elusive, insistent. They are the ones
who hold my head above water.

8

Graffiti, Diffusing in Soup

To begin with, what’s in a bath? Everything.
Even the setting could/should/would be elsewhere

toes tickling the air in a fantasy of heated clouds
laughing from just being there – a moment please.

Apparently wee free folk share the space, linger
in dalliance because your head is nodding off

the white cliffs. Anything you’d want to say drowns
in the heat… the simmering malingering of it all.

Slink like a selkie, live in the skin, hold your head
high enough to disenfranchise worrying aspects.

Let headlines rise up the screen, drift into mist;
they’ll be next year’s logistical nightmares caught

in the dark net. It isn’t wise to associate with them;
they are sharks in the black council’s film noir.

9

From Birmingham To The Bath

"Bath - a weekend break"
You had said
"Travel light, just do be there"
So I did

Acquire a used Lonely Planet
Read it back to front
Corner bending those pages
With sites to be sighted:

Bath Abbey
Pulteney Bridge
Royal Crescent
Roman remains
Grand Pump Room
Sydney Gardens
A plethora of musea

And faux-posh restaurants
Street eateries
Vegan diners
Gastro pubs
Bars
Inns of repute
Inns without.

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10

Returning

Cobalt currents draw
the prow of our sun blazing
joyful through a mackerel sky
I will study and learn
will catch opportunity  trust

I will whisper-gentle myself
sand-smooth doubts and ripples
forget loam scent  iron doors  ashes
cast off  that storm-caul anchor

I scan the gloss of deep azure
feel mother ocean  cradle this isle
these crofts  these babes
this past.

I will make my way

11

Bar service

Beneath my finger nails,
covered in a tone of natural flesh
to hide the inky blotches
so I can serve the evening drinks
without offending customers
who’ll jostle on the other side,
my skin felt suffocated, tight.

My beard trimmed for the night
legs ready for the shift ahead
the float secured in its cloth bag
banded notes and coins for the till
the floor still sticky under foot —
by the new year I shall be
swimming in beer.

I remember it all so well —
the folky fingers in the ears
when Sule Skerry was
trotted out again and
everyone sang the great silkie
while the fire blazed up
and I began to breathe.

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12

January

Was the day she laid
in the bath and
waved a change
of the passing times

with a finger,
pointing out all the
fictions that looked
down upon her

nakedness and
drew curves in
the stoic bath water.
‘This is madness’,

she remarked and later
underlined the first
date on the new
calendar, in bold

she wrote 'need to
shave legs', in a red
marker, an ink
that leaked

through the other pages.
she was dried,
hair patted, and
soon drained

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13

The Truth about Selkies

Selkies. I’ve read a lot about them recently, as though they’re something new. But I was brought up with their tales, as was my mother and her mother before her. Each island has its own stories, and it’s hardly surprising that people – men, usually – travelled around collecting the different versions, tracing their origins and analysing their meanings. Didn’t the Brothers Grimm do much the same, searching out the women who could be persuaded to part with their histories?

Of course, asking a woman to share a story about family secrets in exchange for money is a bit like trying to hold sand in the palm of your hand as the tide washes in. You can stare all you like at the individual grains, but you’ll only be left with a few memories and the sensation of absence. Especially if that woman happens to be a selkie.

Grandma spoke about the big spat between followers of Bruford and Dennison and Hibbert, each with their own ideas of merfolk, and selkies, and shapeshifters. Odd how these academics become so convinced of their rightness, how committing their theories to paper makes them experts. I suppose they had a vested interest in the idea of women being trapped in human form, by the simple notion of hiding their sealskins where they couldn’t be found. It’s the old story, isn’t it? Life and literature are heaving with instances of men determined to exert control over intelligent but powerless women.

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14

The Weight Ascending Breaks the Air

I feel that way too sometimes,
going to work and coming back,
going to bed and
getting up, as if my life
were like the seiche
that brings the water of our lake
first to one side, then the next.

The weight ascending breaks the air
and from this lake, this spring, bodies ascend
like bubbles in water; there
resurrected with flatulent calm
and weighing no more than a scruple
they reach a vigilant level and
lose all pretense; their

gravity takes over.
Indifferent to all entreaties they hang
globular in the warming tub.
Yet the water yields, it suffers itself
that all these latest bodies
may rise through tranquil sea,
through standing lake.

15

The view from your bath tub in the Cliffs of Moher Resort and Spa

Bartleby is shocked as he spies not just nipples but
seal pups as hats, seal pups being hugged by
wizened white haired topless handless flipperful nymphs,
but at least he can't be shocked by you:
You've shorn down those fields of brown barley undulating
and you've painted your nails red
and he'll ignore that you're still a bit unkempt -
down there
he'll ignore the lines that underwear leave on you now
he'll ignore the skull
he'll ignore the coral dappled surface of your flank
he’ll ignore it all right...

but should you feel compelled to make a change
check out our brochure of treatments and services
you'll find them quite competitively priced.

16

CAFFEINE RUSH

We bumped into each other
outside Costa.
I apologized for my clumsiness
took her inside for an impromptu cappuccino.
Milk froth, white as sea spray, beaded her upper lip.
I’m a mermaid, she said, and I believed her.

Why not?

Waist-length hair moving with an inner life
like a sea grass forest.
Eyes, luminous as the moon’s trail
across an ocean.
Her voice, sibilant as tides at midnight.
A soft, fishy, iridescence to her skin.

I was totally, painfully in love.

The mermaid left as suddenly as she had appeared.
I watched the sway of her hips as she moved lithely
between tables, thought of a retreating tide
oozing around rocky outcrops on a beach I knew.
Sea-blue, shot-silk skirt clung possessively
to taut, muscular thighs, halted above shapely calves ...

that led my eye down to ...

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17

Versions and Visions

All her dreams reflected—
bright as her toenails painted red,
where long ago, fused and webbed, they stroked
the water, pinniped to surface light.

There is joy and beauty
in both visions. She longs for water and moonglade,
she wants a bed and a ship; the subaqueous and the superlunary
both beyond reach.

Surrounded by her many selves, the worlds of what if
and what might be, she sees

each is as each could be. Her hair, fresh-washed, still
carries a scent of salt, a tint of sea-green.

18

Bath Time

Their little heads turn to me
soap suds like bath caps contour
dark eyes lost in this watery world

as selkies dive under and over limbs
tickle toes; my babies giggle
as words plop into the foamy ocean

all a-splash causing waves to crash
against white porcelain and sponge
island bobs towards the plug

They take these stories to dreamland
wake with tales of their own
while selkies wait by the bath taps.

19

The Call

This day at dawn bathed under a blue heaven,

I hold in awe the fathomless creatures

and sink into the pleasure of knowing them,

my gaze continues beyond the shore

I hear the shells call out beneath my feet

it is time to be a fearless swimmer

to dive in deep and rise again renewed.

20

The Local Color

I love piers,
especially deserted ones,
and mostly at twilight
where rotted wooden planks
bounce over light, over waves.

And I've an affection
for ancient sea-dogs,
white-bearded, gray-eyed,
who barely mutter a word.

And I just adore the unknown decorator
who adorned the restaurant, the bar,
in glass bowls, in netting,
in anchors, in plastic mermaids,
scattered scrimshaw, in gaudy painted ladies
from the bows of dead ships.

Fresh catch, the menu
proudly tells me.
On a chalk-board,
the waiter fills in names of fish,
the price of lobster.
The owner tells me tales of storms,
of the statue in the town square
inscribed with those the sea took.

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21

CLIFFS OF DOVER

When I was young,
my folks forbade me
to look at them
as they chipped away
and rubbed their mysteries
against the surface of a lime earth
before falling like sawdust
into the open blue.
I saw them fall like stardust,
the powder shimmer-like
and blowing in my direction.


I was delusional
because such an exquisite view
was always a smokescreen.
It's what they had me believe.
They were cynics
and I put up a brave front
with my Romanticism.

Read more >
22

Of Land and Sea

Before I’m born, my fisherman father
feeds my mother fresh scallops
from the boat’s daily haul. My blood and bones
formed of strong sea muscle and salt.

I grow up plucking pickled herring from jars
like candy, and ripping apart the jagged claws
of lobsters the same way gluttonous gulls smash
into the spiny bodies of sea urchins.

But I’ve had to adapt, evolve to living inland.
Still, it feels all wrong. The air empty of iodine,
no scent of dried seaweed or tidal decay,
waves lapping on repeat through a sound machine.

This middle life, a purgatory. Even along the coast,
I was still tethered to the ledge of land.
I remember the harbor seal's eyes,
little black saucers as dark as the ocean floor

looking up into mine, wide mirrors of blue sky,
how he never seemed that bothered,
gingerly lifting his head, knowing even if I wanted to,
I couldn’t follow him back into the deep.

23

The Abduction of a Forsythia-Yellow Duck

Saturday night bath time. I am deep in rising puffs
of steam, between warm breaths of fog, lavender salts,
and 11 o’clock.  My legs, bitten by hot water, are

buoyant and drowning at the same time, and my toes
are painted scarlet Sirens. Such wee beauties, such
alluring tragedies. Sing, you chorus of razor-sharp

tongues from sibilant Isles of Sirenum Scopuli.
A Siren is calling to my forsythia-yellow rubber duck.
Ho! Tie yourself to a mast! Stuff your ears with soap,

and duck!

The howl of wind, a funnel of echoes, a slash upon
smooth white porcelain cliffs. Ooh, those wooing
maids painted scarlet are swimming a stone’s throw

from the pebbly shore. Beware my ducky, my brave
odd bobbing Odysseus. Beware of harpies and
kelpies and tentacled amusements, creatures of

servitude and abduction lusting after your
forsythia-yellow, for your wheezy-siren quack.

Read more >
24

Never in the farthest headlands

Never in the farthest headlands

of my foggy dreams
did I suppose when I swapped
this steamy bathtub
for wild swimming
over one crazed week—
just one—

that I’d return as a mother to a school
of slithery silkies.

They pop up when I bathe
sometimes

and shock the rubber ducky
senseless

as my lighthouse toenails
beam out messages
of peril
to passing sailors
trembling
on their decks:

terrified
of mermaids.

25

Wonderful World

I’m lying in the bath
and all is tranquil here.
Encased in water, I’m safe.
There’s nothing to fear.

This is my pit stop before
I head back out on my walk -
My thrilling adventure along the coast.

I don’t want to boast (it isn’t my style),
but I’m pretty good at it now.
Simply, I take one step,
then another,
and just see what happens next.

I let myself cry at beautiful things
like the soothing sound of the sea
which wraps itself around my whole body.

Memories ignite when I pick up shells -
suddenly I’m ten again,
back at Aberystwyth beach,
having fun collecting shells with Mum.

Sea creatures look out for me,
Ensure I don’t lose my way.
Often we dance together,
whatever the weather.
 
Do you realise how wonderful our world is?

26

A Celtic Soak

Bathtime is for make-believe.
My knees become the Cliffs of Moher
jutting above a kyanite sea.

I shave seaweed from my skin,
its tangled tendrils hold
secrets not meant for men.

Around the rim, the hag’s head nods,
she does agree,
man’s a creature of pure trickery.

A mermaid without a cloak
lounges on my landslip thighs,
dips her tail in the aquatic yoke.

We’ve learned to bide our time,
wedding and bedding, but ne’er forgetting
One day we’ll find

our stolen magic stoles.
Slip into them, and then the wider sea
to swim free amongst the selkies.

27

Not Singing

There was nothing to be done. The mermaids had come and they were not going back. I welcomed them to the swim in which I floated, its enamel walls, its view of the cliffs on which the mermaids used to sit, brushing their hair, keening for shipwrecks that never arrived. The cliffs were crumbling, they said, although I could not see it from here. When I called them sirens they corrected me: sirens are not we, and though we used to sing, the wind now refuses to carry our music. I asked why they had left the ocean to come here, and they said hush: for the ocean is shallow and your bath is very deep, and we have fled the falling land and we may not go home again and there is nothing to be done. I turned the hot tap on and answered: let this be your home.
28

between desire and despair

a jeopardy of jabbering thoughts
cling to gaunt air   
particulates massing for a strike
ponderously    waft against
the wheeze of breath
panic

speechless
combing their silky hair
flaunting sulky    moods
three sisterly merrows
Desire
Détente &
Despair
prepare to intertwine
half here half there
                          confusion
 
motionless
focus on the far distance
red boom line drawn taut drags
polystyrene cliffs toward a syrupy sea
shape
          sort
                  shift
a new reality    curls    it's toes
stepping from the scream
relaxed
              fearless

29

Saline

My mother was mermaid silver
all secret scales & fishtail flicks
she changed the air to wave-spray
& like that she disappeared
a fish-oily slide from the holdfast
from small hands greedy pleading
quicksand for our sand-sucked feet
she shoogle-shifted these slakit shores

weaned on tears we were set adrift,
salt-wound cut from her dulsey cord
this briny mother we’d locked to land
ochre smoked & tobacco wreathed
her mermaid’s purse bled scarlet polish
lipstick veered vermillion to her sharky teeth
painted in the shapes of woman & wife
she was costumed in dances & ‘divil may care’

but her landward legs (not real at all)
failed & flipped under the toil of gravity
& when she could not take herself
we took the ceaseless sea to her
buckets of Atlantic from Skelligs
from Derrynane we bathed her feet
drenched her earth-drained ankles
& hailed her selkie heart to leap


Read more >
30

You will go down to the sea again

– with thanks to Masefield and Ronsard

Ever since you find the snorkel
in the cupboard in the spare bedroom,
you have been hearing siren songs
of cliffs and coves and carragheen.

Before you even book a B & B,
bath-time pleasures remind you
of the tingle of water on bare limbs,
of silica for beach-ready toes.
 
A glance through the window
tells you the surf must be up
or that bladder rack is already
conspiring to tangle your ankles.

So leave the plastic duck bathside
and get down with the fishes.
Forsake bathtub fantasies
and seek the seals for real.

Grab your goggles, lug the tight
new wetsuit, worthy of the clingiest
of mermaids, free of its wrapping
and haul your pandemic-pale

Read more >
31

Blue

Water is divine
(Salilam apraketam; Rig Veda X.29.3)

Sparkle droplets,
mermaids glow,
rise I in the bath
a beauty so rare
blue of the ocean
divine colours
creatures abound
Blue of the sea
clear as glass
azure against
white Cliffs
colours primal
wakes me from the dream
the primordial sound ‘Om’
The water of life
hope begins,
Matsya avatar
anthromorphic man & fish
the diamond dance
of the sea embraces
a dew like a droplet
life roars ahead anew.

32

Tidal fair

To continue: after intensive research
it turns out that joy is best accessed
and assessed after a long soak. To that
end, and to restore the honour of all
who call themselves hedonists, the ghosts
of which I am honoured to number amongst
the greatest of my grief-testing allies, I have
the deepest honours to announce my latest
project: a full-scale recreation of the Vauxhall
Pleasure Gardens, except this time they shall
float, moored roughly where we can ascertain
London was before the Thames got really, really
hungry. At the trace embankment embark on the
very finest in resurrection bantering and frivolity:
an aqualung bandstand, a hermit in a conch,
rack punch sculled from passing kayaks.
Oh what delights I promise you, as pleasure
is my honour, a turtle master of ceremonies,
a hupstart milksop. Come come come come
come again, use your tidal freedom freely
and do not wait to be amused, for fun rests
for no sepulchral tongue or tide.

33

Sea Legs

She seals sell sea shells
– no, there are no shells –
tub ducks at the duck tub.

A She Seal has a seal head.
A Seal She has a sea leg.
A Seal She is up my thigh.

I’ve got a sealed thigh.
I’m on a seal high.
I see high seas, seals,

just that the seals
and the high seas
and the high hills

are all real.
And we fly
towards Dover

in a tub.
But when I pull the plug,
I’ll wake up.

34

13.1 – Only Half crazy

Foamy mountains grow around the waterfall cascading from the tap.
My sweat soaked clothes are piled up in the corner. With a smile of a happy idiot, I sit on the side of the bath. Naked. “13.1 – I’m Only Half crazy” says the slogan of my wet top. I would argue with that. I think I’m a total nut case.
I measure a generous portion of Epson salts into a bath and stir with my hand.
The water is steaming, in contrast, to the side of the bathtub that I’m sitting on. It’s cold. Refreshing. Despite the freezing temperatures outside, I’m face and body flushed. Too hot. Too tired. Can barely move.
When the water reaches the level and the bathroom mirror disappears in the hot mist, I step in. My knees are locked, every move is a torture.
I suspend myself above the bath on my hands and ease my exhausted body in. A sigh of relief mixed with pain runs through the foamy mountains, as water stings every chafed part, every blister and each of my lovely toes that has just sustained a continuous hammering against the pavement for the period of 2 hours, 42 minutes and 15 seconds.
As I soak in the heat penetrating deep into my muscles, my phone buzzes on the side. It’s my running buddy. Today was her first Half too. We ran, socially distanced, of course, 50 miles apart, but together in spirit.
“How are you?” flashes on the screen.
I reply with a picture of my pedicured toes peeking from under the abundance of the bath bubbles.
“You?”
She sends me a smiley face and a photo. A view of a pointy knees sticking out from the bubble-bath and a foam-covered hand holding a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Read more >

35

Solitude

The art of being alone reminds me
that I am not alone.

My imagination connects
my drain with the lake.
I wonder if Fish and Wildlife will
impose a catch and release on pike, just like
Arctic grayling.

I bend my knees and slide my upper body under the bath water.

The lake is filled by the surrounding hills.
It drains into a small river –
a tributary of a major river.
The water flows northeast
into another lake, river, lake, etc.
Finally, it tumbles into the Arctic Ocean.

I wriggle my fingers and make small waves.

The tip of the world
draws North America,
Europe and Asia together
inside the Arctic Circle.
Disputed international boundaries.
A friendly one fought with bottles of Danish and Canadian
alcohol and a flag swap.

Read more >
36

Calgon

Submerged
in this salton
cypress
scented sea,
the detritus of the day
falls away.
The concrete crust
of expectation,
modulation,
sophistication,
softens

to slick scales.
The voices,
harsh and brittle,

morph
to murmurings,
selkie song.
Tunes
ancient mothers crooned
slowly seep

into me.

Free
to return

to the sea
I sing along.

37

What The Water Gave Me

Frida is in the bath again. She’ll be in there for hours now and I’ll have to go out and piss in the yard but there’s no talking to her. What she does in there I’ll never know but experience has taught me there’s no use in trying to politely suggest that she’ll catch her death or shrivel to a prune or that monopolising a small dwelling’s single bathroom might not be the done thing.

She’s always been eccentric, though. The first time I met her she was wandering naked and alone along a particularly inhospitable stretch of wintry northern coastline, searching furiously behind every rock and dune. She’s never told me exactly what she was looking for, but you’d have to assume clothing of some kind was high on the agenda.

Anyway, nobody else was out because there was a gale blowing but I like that beach best in wild weather. I’m from a long line of fishermen and while that business had well and truly run aground, so to speak, by the time I was of age, there’s nostalgia for the ocean in my veins all the same. When the wind whips up I always go down to fooster around on the strand like I might take to the sea any minute.

She gave me no notice that day but I tell you, I gave her plenty. Sense returning, I remembered I had an old blanket in the car and that this young one in nothing but her pelt was on the verge of freezing solid. So I went and got it, shook off some of the less tenacious lint, and brought it down to offer it to her, by this point making a show of trying to avert my eyes. I was fairly sure she was on drugs, but she took the blanket anyway and wrapped it awkwardly around herself, suddenly furtive.

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38

Scraps to Daub a Siren’s Lips

Siren, your lips are living laurels;
From them I was born.

Put these dead leaves to the hectic red
And leave me the cartography of the lines
Of beauty that live on your ancient lips.

The swollen kingdom of the vermillion border.

The divine counterpart to the human
Palm line from which we divine and sign

Our futures.

They move like under ocean currents
Hard to trace with eye or hand.

I still hold your fallen feather in mine,
Balanced between thumb and forefinger.

Tickled by the soft stroke
Of sea slick plumology.

I swim in salt waters.
I must learn to drink from them again.

Mine is the way of the fish,
Battered and wrapped in paper printed

With all my poetry.

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39

The Lonesome Boatman

T’was a decent aul pedicure in fairness. Aggie, inside in the spa in Doolin, is the business and sure lookit, what else would you be spending your money on of a dull winter's day only lounging about inside in the warmth. Shellac is the new Prozac I think I heard someone say. Let me tell you what else puts a pep in your step only a seaweed bath. Now I do like to have the seaweed baths without the seaweed ‘cause I have an aul allergy to Bladderwrack but don’t I ask Aggie to throw in a few little mermaids when she’s filling, and sure you’d hardly know the difference. The mermaids tails are slippery as saucy pasta and with all their moving in the water don’t they feel just as soft as seaweed. And I’ll tell you this much – the bubbles they churn give it the feel of a jacuzzi with the whirlpools reaching parts of me I forgot were reachable. Before the Prozac and long before the beautician came to Doolin that is.

Only yesterday didn’t she fill my bath and wheel me out onto the cliff path and there she parked it and in I got with a nice Merlot and a book of poetry. Paula Meehan it was. Every bit as rich and delicate as the wine that didn’t last too long. The poems made the wind die down and the rain cease and for a few moments I even thought that she was in the bath with me: Paula Meehan. I thought I saw her lift her porcelain body from the swell and perk her scales on the side of the bath facing Moher. I could have sworn I heard her incant ‘The Well’ in mesmerising Dublinese. I heard her say,
“I know this path by magic not by sight.
Behind me on the hillside the cottage light
is like a star that's gone astray.”

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40

into the otherwise

from horizon’s haze
crescented edge emerging—
light from everywhere

water a mirror,
shimmering a path into
possibility

transparent, balanced
in airwaves—invisible
bridge spans cosmic seas

ghost images shine,
reflecting others in themselves—
catching errant dreams

entering the mind,
leaving behind time’s measure—
rules do not apply

throwing the questions
into vast infinities—
falling just between

41

Secret routes to the shore

When you’re landlocked
there are certain tricks
to conjure lobster-pots and ship-yard bustle
Ways to encourage waves to lap right up
to your front door

Yes, there is the pasta-water one
Make it as salty as the Mediterranean
and as you taste it you’ll slip under Grecian waves
Feel the hot white sun still on your face
Limbs light in the aquamarine

But for full effect, run a hot bath
Save the bubbles and
the grey-green light will shine through
Allow it to sit as a mirror might
Then let your body fold into the space

Let the water flow between your ears
It will speak of moonlit fishing villages
Of high tides and caves only navigated by night
Listen out for beaches that belong to creatures
where the water is wildest

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42

Inscape

A well-earned bath. Dared to go red. Big fish with plastic, goggle eyes said I would die after laying 100,000 eggs. Waste away. And here I am soaking, defying the odds.

I’m not the only one who hoped for an alternative reality. Soteira, Syrinx and Siren have entered their other truth. They accompany me on this journey, which I call serendipity.

Rubber ducky has two realities—vinyl plastic in both, but here, nobody forces him down under. Rubber ducky doesn’t have to deal with stubborn mold and children that take delight in squeezing. Golden, he is our sun.

Siren explains that water is paper and the bathtub a novel. We are all characters in a sensual space exploring our unique essence. When the outside world sees a cat or a dog, we see a seal and an octopus. When earthlings reach the conclusion that concrete is the only truth, the only reality possible and dreamlike, daydream, in/es/scape are only abstract and frivolous, when our beauty is their ugly—it’s time to enter our Other.

The sea knows no boundaries. Seascape, landscape other scapes await us. Censored dictionaries enter our shared reality. We have stripped the pages of that formal book. Our spines and that of the book are page less. New words hatch in sparkling marine waters and the four of us will start writing with our tails and blazing toes, defining, redefining, all in a non-chronological order.

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43

Julia

I put my phone in an empty mug, and I put myself in a lukewarm bath. My brother gave me a speaker for my birthday last year, but I prefer the cup’s muffle-echo.

The only thing I want to listen to is a playlist I found on one of my sleepless nights, in the depths of the internet. "Unexplained Sounds."

There are some from space, but I prefer the underwater ones. The ones from the vastness of the Pacific, from under ice sheets at the top and the bottom of the world. From the darkest, most unknowable places. They sound even better when I'm in the water.

“Bloop” – so liquid, like it’s moving somewhere in my own body, looping through my stomach, heart, head. The roaring crash of “Slow Down”, tearing through layers of lightless water. “Whistle”, which led me to look up how hydrophones work – the submarine equipment that captured these sounds, these sounds that have captured me.

My favourite, the one I listen to over and over again, is the one that shares my name. Julia. Almost three minutes, and they think it can be explained by a huge iceberg off Antarctica.

But I can hear the voice. I can hear it calling me, and I understand why sailors jumped in when they saw seals, when they saw mermaids, when they heard voices. I understand why their widows walked the clifftops, looking for sails, listening for their voices snatched away on surf and wind. My fingers pucker and the bathwater cools around me, and I hear the voice calling me.

44

You Lived With the Seals

Do you remember the first time I took you to see the seals at Pier 36? You were probably around four years old.

The big city was such an adventure then. We left the countryside and drove for over an hour to get there.

It was foggy on the way down. But by the time we got to the pier the sky was so bright but you didn’t have sunglasses, you were four. So we bought that pair, remember, the green ones you were obsessed with that you cried over for a week when Jack sat on them and broke them?

There were so many seals that day. And oh my God, were you mesmerized by them. They were sunning themselves out on those wooden planks all linked together by those rusty chains that looked like they had been in the water for decades.

Some seals were just laying there, others were jumping off the platforms, darting under the water and then popping back up on another platform.

There was that one that would muscle its way into a tight spot pushing another seal over and into the water and you thought that was hilarious.

The noises they made I thought were so jarring and loud and piercing. And constant. But you laughed so hard for like three hours.

And I had this whole day planned for us on the pier:
We’d see the seals.
Then we’d play some games in the arcade.
Then we’d walk along the promenade.
Then maybe we’d grab a bite to eat.

But you did not want to leave the seals and we just sat there the whole time. The whole time!

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45

JOY

My newborn son handed me a piece of the moon.
Dawn mist is parting for the ship's bell to dance off
smiling cliff faces.

Curious eyes rise from the turning tides, all shore-bound,
the aunts are gathering.

Feed me with sea bass and scarlet love apples,
tip of asparagus and tail of the lobster.
Bacchus fill my glass, chocolate coat my dreams.

Come, come closer, my son cries welcome.
Cushion him with rose petals and kind cashmere words.

Orchestras explode, play a symphony for me of my son's
first laughter from those far distant hills.

46

Daughters of the Northern Isles

m o t h e r
my babes     
flower like paper                  throw your tresses,as buried trenches,
water your thick vines    washed on shore
upon dandelions;  high end
olive; hook, line, sinker          oil and candle fat dwindles,don’t blubber
whiskey on whiskers     coat of
merlot,stitched with tales webbed in lies,
trinket skies in your eyes,don’t fall                   you did

f i s h e r m a n ’ s    t a i l
sauteed aut sherry,candles merry    carnal hunger
but not for lust,no,      for blood beyond the bone
your being is pennied,cold and copper                  missed pinniped
behind truth of greed you find           absence,absinthe
fell into          something sloe              blackthorn
steal from the world                you only love
your babes                        and perhaps
your sea

h o m e
at last

47

Fresh start

The mermaid’s dark glance says: “Have you washed
behind those foolish ears of yours? Remember
the filthy state in which this past year finished,

the chaotic mud in which your dull limbs were
hopelessly stuck for months. And now you must
light out cleanly – accompany all of us

along this misty novelty of a coast.
Tell the rubber duck not to be nervous,
and likewise calm that bath-shy newt. Let’s clamber

out together, feeling refreshed and prepared
to swim or run or sing or shout or slumber.
Pull the plug on the past. Go forward – forward!”

48

Silent Siren

I don't hear them
when I'm out walking,
rain soaked,
trainers scuffed with mud.

Or in the passenger seat
in the car on the way home,
wipers swiping ,
through the white road noise.

No songs sound
as I sleep in sheets
of blue-green
and dream of trying to fly.

I'm alone in my imagination
no voices meeting mine
in the darkness
of the inside of my eyelids

But once in a while
soaking in the tub
I let my eyes close and my legs lift
and float back into the sea.

49

Silent Motion

There’s a strangeness to the sea up here,
where wind whips off of white horses,
and cliffs fall so sharply, sharper than anywhere else.

Pyramids of rock cut out delicately submerged pools,
pools deep enough to lose yourself in, deep enough to dream forever.

Dark eyes and darker souls, thrashing in stormy waters,
disguised in the shadows and chaos of breaking waves.

All looked down upon by sea worn cottages balancing on the coastlines edge, from Quay to Point and back again.

Erosion takes the brick and mortar closer to the sea bed day by day,
ongoing victories in a war of attrition.

Such murky depths, thick with mackerel, peppered by cormorants and shag,
observed through squinted eyes, obscured by a porthole encrusted with salt.

Behind such brine soaked glass, is the only peace.
The violence of the sea is kept quiet by rivets and structure,
only silent motion can be felt.

50

Inscrutable

We had just reached our teenage years when we started visiting the human. I can’t really remember how we knew how to find her; I suppose we just kind of sensed her presence. Like a silent calling. We certainly wouldn’t have hauled ourselves up to the top of the cliffs just for the hell of it because hellish was exactly what that journey was. We never would have even attempted it but the fact that it was forbidden to venture beyond shoreline and at that age that’s more than enough motivation to overcome a couple of hours of extreme discomfort and exertion. Any kind of contact with humans was, of course, even more prohibited; the ultimate taboo if you like. We knew that she was expecting us because of the effort she made to create a welcoming environment; though how she acquired the sea water and kelp with which to fill her bath remained a mystery. It was just as well too since who knows what might have become of us otherwise after so long out of the sea. She would constantly talk to us even though naturally we couldn’t understand a word. However we would smile or nod our heads at what seemed to be appropriate moments and that appeared to satisfy her. She always had as her companion a bright yellow bird who was about half our size. This one never spoke or indeed made any sort of movement. It just sat on the edge of the bath and watched. We found it a bit creepy to be honest but were unable to convey this feeling to the human. We never stayed for very long; once we’d had our taste of the illicit thrill of just being there it soon became rather dull. Then, after a couple of years of maybe monthly visits, for the three of us almost simultaneously, the lure of other activities closer to home overrode the desire to continue with such arduous escapades. If we strayed onto the shore, we could still feel that strange calling but in time it grew ever fainter. As did the sense of guilt at our desertion of landgirl. Memories of those trips began to fade as well.

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51

Take A Bath, They Say

Take a bath, they say, and all of the creative ideas will come to you. All of the worries and concerns and everyday troubles of this world will drift away. You've felt stuck in your writing, stuck in your life, stuck in your physical movements. The tired body needs time to relax. So you draw a bath, like they say. Plug the drain and turn the faucet on and allow steaming hot water to flow alongside inspiration floating like bath bubbles to the surface of your consciousness. Dip your toes into the warm water, let the sound of the flowing water heal your body like a salve. Immerse your body all at once into the bathtub, close your eyes, and allow imagination to take hold of you as if it were a physical being striving to become real in this reality. You breathe in the lavender essential oils and exhale all of the negativity and stress away. You imagine the mermaid myths and legends, the yellow rubber duck from the hotel, the seal that floated by in the water beside the castle on the island. And then you dunk your head beneath the water and envision those rocks on the Scottish shore, called Kilt Rock because they looked like kilts the Scottish men would wear, and your tears mix together with the healing bath water. Take a bath, they say, and all of the creative ideas will come to you in figuring out how to heal the heartbreak of loving the Scottish countryside but the man you love doesn't feel the same.

52

Consider the Selkie

I sink into the steaming water,
wrap it around me like a coat.
The tub follows my curves,
holds me close, enamel mermaid purse.
A shower wouldn’t satisfy:
I need to wear water like a skin.
It is a process, learning
to like this body, its ripples
and roundness. The way
my thighs press into
the smooth arms of the bath.
But then I consider the selkie.

Almost-more-than siren
and her blubber, the folds
of her soft belly, bursting
from seal slip. Perhaps this
is why I am fond of the water,
the way its cloth clings to
my nakedness: I feel less raw,
unexposed. It is a journey,
but maybe, after this soaking,
I will slow down in front of the mirror
and stop searching for another skin.

53

How to Catch a Mermaid in Four Simple Steps

1. Draw a bath by the sea.
A clawfoot tub with gold finishes
As the gleam may catch their attention
When the sun sparkles on the faucet.

2. Add salts, not the scented ones
But the pure sea salt that dissolves
Like magic, not a chemical reaction,
And the delicate smell wafts out to sea
Where it might tickle their nostrils.

3. Drop in a seal or two.
Feed them pickled herring and smoked oysters
To encourage them to sing
The seal song of welcome
That the mermaids love so much.

4. Then climb into the warm water
And wait
Until your own hair grows long
And your fingers wrinkle up like plump raisins
And your legs feel heavy like a mermaid's tail.

Then, if you are lucky,
The mermaids will come to investigate
This perfect sea of salt and seals
With a creature not unlike themselves.

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54

I’LL THEN TAKE A LONG BATH EVERY NIGHT

I heard the bed creak as you tossed and turned all night long. I saw fragments of your broken sleep scatter in your dreamworld storm. But when I asked you what was wrong the following morning, you looked at me with incomprehension, unable to utter a single word.

Now I see the panic you are wearing on your face every day. I keep imagining how frightening it is to witness your own mind losing its grip all the way. Meanings dissolve, shapes gone faint. How cruel is old age ― why has it dealt you this cruellest fate?

The other day I saw your smile crumbling into fear mid-sentence. I saw the effort you made ― your frown deepened, your eyes screwed up ― but no, nothing came! The word simply refused to offer you its name. I could sense the IDEA was there, right inside your head, large and incipient, and yet ― and yet its auditory identity remained intangibly vague. As hopelessness was about to invade, your face crumpled, tears ready to flow. I held your hands, suppressing my urge to say the word for you, trying to fathom your devastation, scorched by your paranoia of losing your soul.

Fifty years of being together vanish in a flash: your hippocampus can now only retain shards and scraps. My consolation is I still (up to this moment) mean a lot to you, even though you can’t put it into words. And, for better or for worse, here I stay, by your side: your maid. Sometimes tiredness overwhelms me, but this is a promise I’ll renew day after day. Please don’t lose the sense of who ‘you’ are, please don’t let your humour fade. I don’t mind you getting angry (even at me) but I dearly wish you could keep your sense of peace. There’s a new café somewhere on the riverside, and I’ll take you there one morning to try a cappuccino and perhaps an apple pie.

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55

Hold Your Breath As Your Head Goes Under

Let’s bathe in all of it:
the temperature crawling up a duck’s back,
the sponge learning our language,
the decisions to swim inside,
the wondering how long we should hold open doors,
the thinking about what was said,
the endless overcooked poached eggs,
the charity shop drowning in his things,
waffles in the microwave, a goalkeeper exploding,
the smell of brown sauce, sucking on cola cubes,
a build-up of dust, letting our skin rest,
the lack of space in the car boot,
the looking out of high windows,
Scott’s lyrics, Graeme’s gloves, Jim’s whiskey t-shirt,
the ears stitched to the lining of our sofa,
the head with curls from a thousand years ago.

56

At Last

‘It’s only a story. A flipping daft made-up thing Ma used to tell us. It’s not true, for crying out loud!’
But I could see fright in my sister’s eyes and she was holding the door handle so tight her fingers were white.
‘Let me by,’ I shouted as I wrenched her out of my way. ‘Or come with me and see if I’m mad.’
The sun was slipping low as I ran from the house towards the sea. As I reached the cliff edge, the movement of ground was barely visible. But I could feel it. The slow heave and thrust of the land as the cliffs moved their rocky feet and shuffled further into the ocean. Ropes of deep red sunlight pulled the limestone beasts further in, crimson ripples tugging from the horizon, coaxing them. An eyelash of new moon hung faint in the east, watching as eventually the cliffs shuddered to a halt. Loose stones tumbled down into the dusky water as a shoal of laughing nereids emerged from the foamy pink splashes. They swam and swirled, throwing the fading ribbons of sunset from wave to wave. I watched, entranced by their grace and beauty.
And from the writhe and glint of skin and scale, I heard a voice I had always known, call out to me:
‘It’s time, my love.‘
I let myself fall down, past the crumbling edge, into the spinning water far below. And as the waves covered my body, I felt the strength of many hands support me – at last.

57

SCANDALOUS POSSIBILITIES

If the cliffs in your heart still echo with his music, prepare, for possibilities. There are many things that can keep lovers apart: keep track of the flooding shores and the brimming civil war. Paint the toenails with the hue of your husband’s rage and adorn yourself only for yourself. As long as there’s that barter, forgive this world’s maladroitness. Shave your legs if that’s your thing, but remember woman, be the first to take the wing.

58

Canarias

The year began with my camera training the edges of the cliffs,

two naked people below had found a patch of sun, yellow light on black sand.

From my vantage point they were dwarfed by the ocean, tiny bodies who had made it down the steep path,

standing looking at the ocean.

In a different story they were left on the shore by the waves; now they stood there confused about where they were from.

Another tale saw them emerge from the sand and another called them lewd exhibitionists.

I framed them, imprinting them into plastic, hoping the image will be a reminder of how things can begin.

59

Reflections in the Bathtub

My face looks back at itself unimpressed.
Parts of me disconnect and swim away.
On the shore people, onlookers are waving
Me off, paparazzi, well-wishers, they hope
I will survive but hide a desire in dark parts
Of themselves that the sea will swell up,
Overtop my senses and consume me;
My senses are swamped except the sixth,
That confirms I am an aggregation of people,
A plural being who can only exist with purpose:
I rest at home as a presence providing security,
I hunt in stores for staples and essentials,
I call to my lover from the living room floor,
I am a bare-naked soul with painted nails,
And a mind filled to the overflow; yes,
They hope I will survive but only through drama.
They need stories in their lives.

One day, I will dive into the jade sea and not return
Swim north, until I am returned by ice,
Then return with kelp and seal meat for tea.

60

Song

Immersion is never easy
always a toe by toe experience
an in-breath of claustrophobia
as the water reaches her navel.
once reached however
an unfolding begins
the water a soft throw
enwrapping her
eyes close a past life appears
where she is at home
with waves and shells and coral
where porpoises play chase
like infants released for break
and she swims among them
seaweed caressing her shoulders
her limbs moving as one
propelling her through the water
to a rock where she suns herself
and combs her long hair
eyes fixed on the waves
to sight a passing boat
throat and mouth open
ready to sing to those on board
a song of desire and abandon
where forgetting is all

61

Open Slowly

Between the large LIVE ANIMALS INSIDE notice on the side of the box and the crooked red and white OPEN SLOWLY sticker above her name, Charlie was not optimistic she would like what was inside. She hadn’t seen her sister in six months, wasn’t sure where she was on her grand tour of the southern hemisphere, but she would be willing to bet Cat was somewhere near the reefs again.

The last box that arrived on her doorstep bearing her name also bore DON’T PANIC! in large green letters that must have passed for a company logo to the postal service but Charlie knew was a warning that the contents needed to be handled with caution. And given the injured shark pup inside the polystyrene cooler, she had been correct.

“You sent me a baby shark, Catherine,” she had hissed when Cat called to make sure the package had arrived in one piece. “Are you out of your mind? No, don’t answer that. Of course you are. You put a hammerhead shark in the mail!” She could hear her voice getting higher, the words coming out faster and louder with every syllable.

“Special delivery,” Cat said, far too cheerfully. “Guaranteed to arrive within 24 hours.”

“What am I supposed to do with this?”  

“Stick him in your quarantine tank and relax, Charlie. I just need you to keep him for a week until Foyle can get his permit and take him to the center for rehab.”

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62

Water in Water in Water

swimming through steam
an hour to clear the head
land

pink skin, soft rock
this subtle cover on bone
is a perch for thoughts

the kind to gaze through
hot and half asleep
turned - back - turned

soft shell sounds
paint the coming view
at a dampening angle

hours here seem minute-less
as plans freshen
by degree - the temperature adjusts

above and below her; she hears
water running over raised land
and it laughs

everything, it is said, returns to the sea

63

flood the sky

light a fire,
find a cauldron
shaped like a stone,
it can be done,
or maybe that old bathtub
your grandmother dragged
down to the beach
for the selkies,
if you can remember where
it’s hidden.
fill it with the sea,
right to the rim,
then simmer away
until you flood the sky
with steam.

the water’s right,
just after midnight, or so,
which is the time to
settle into the salty,
sweet heat, submerge
yourself almost, everything
except your toes
and your knees and your nose.
point them toward the stars
along with your voice,
and sing your dreams
into the dawn.

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64

Mermaids in My Future

This is not about mermaids, it is not a dream,
When I soak in an Epsom salt bath for so long
fishes come up from the bottom
of sleek green water
rich with imagination
I can see through my toes,
the bathtub floats towards the sea.

Nothing holds me here
I can disappear over the western coast
all night battle the sea
float above the cliffs
one shoe on the water
find new horizons, let go of the rubber duck
who never let me down.

The sea calls me; there’s a life abroad.
The sky promises no regret,
my toes have always directed me,
feet facing north, a compass for the wild

Rain rolls in from south-east.
My future’s in the distance
beyond the cliffs
on the rocks.
A mermaid looks me straight in the eye, daring—
In the end I decided just go home.

65

Layers

The thick slabs of filo that wouldn’t separate for us sit hotly inside the middle of me. Slowly, in the oven, the layers come apart, layer by buttery layer, expanding to fill the whole of me, oozing the white and green of ricotta and spinach.

It’s almost as if I am in a hot bath, except the hot bath is inside me.

---

Relax, the black-haired mermaid says, looking like a prettier sister to me, breasts like bells, held aloft, swung.

My toenails are red and make me feel sexy, un-dough-like, filo-less. The seals are grey, hydrophobic skin taut and rubbery, whiskers like Poirot.

My unborn white-haired child sits on the edge of the tub, looking out at sea. She knows I am unmothering her as we speak. A seal moans into the greying air.

The cliffs are jagged yet soft. The sky a forgotten watercolour.

The yellow duck is our dog's plaything—bright, alive, happy still.

The tub, once sun-lit, is filling with algae, seaweed. I can barely see my flesh.

The mermaids look at me with the dark eyes of seals. In the distance, the cliffs now look like bleached bone.

---

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66