• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 03
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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.

Read more >

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…


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

Read more >

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.

Read more >

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.


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.


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 >


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.


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.


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
Inns of repute
Inns without.

Read more >


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


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.

Read more >


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

Read more >

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.

Read more >

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.


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.



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 ...

Read more >

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.


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.


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.


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.

Read more >


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 >

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.


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 >

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

and shock the rubber ducky

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

of mermaids.


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?


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.


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.

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

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



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 >

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 >


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.


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.


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.


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.
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 >



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 >


in this salton
scented sea,
the detritus of the day
falls away.
The concrete crust
of expectation,

to slick scales.
The voices,
harsh and brittle,

to murmurings,
selkie song.
ancient mothers crooned
slowly seep

into me.

to return

to the sea
I sing along.


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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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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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.”

Read more >

into the otherwise

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

water a mirror,
shimmering a path into

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


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

Read more >


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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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.


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!

Read more >


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.


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


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!”


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.


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.



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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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.


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.


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.

Read more >


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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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.


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.



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.



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.


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.



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


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.”

Read more >

Water in Water in Water

swimming through steam
an hour to clear the head

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


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.

Read more >

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.



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.


Read more >

Guarding the Self

Luxuriating in a warm bath,
shedding my troubles
like a selkie sheds its skin,
I drift into a dreamy tableau.

My palette is oily grey and blue-green
sea-water lapping exposed fair skin.
White mists bring a promise of light
from out of receding dark clouds.

A selkie sister sits on my thigh,
her tail fin crossed in hopeful blessing,
her hair a blackness reflecting
 the mystery in her liquid eyes.

An elder tenderly holds a pup,
seated by a shell that sounds other worlds.
Two others float beside me,
waiting with watchful concern.

Don’t worry; all is well.
Happy memories seep into this scene:
sisters painting one another’s toe nails
a daring, scandalous red;

the sunshine yellow of a child’s plastic duck,
its red beak and round eyes
open in wonder at the beauty
of this earth, this life.


My bath is a Jurassic coast

No more shaving of legs my lovelies –
this is the time of swimming in coves,
of bathing where I will with Mermates.

Don’t look at me like that, you’re naked
after all, and it’s my plug to pull if I choose.
The duck and I are are pouting together

how to get his lips back to normal
and my toenails clean of any desire
to be beach-ready to suit the crowd.

My bath is a Jurassic coast waving
its ancient patterns, siren-calling me
to seal the deal, swim with friendly fish.


Art is my medicine*

It’s how I relax
Sitting in my bath
Watching the Cliffs of Moher
With the Mermaids and the seals.
How do you relax?
Do you get your medicine at the Pharmacy
Or in the pub?
Maybe, through conversation with friends
Or wrestling with your eight year
Old son on the floor until you submit
Because you’re tired and want to watch TV.

*Dee Mulrooney


A Seven-Part Setting with Seven Companions

As I lie and lay here soaking in a seven-sided tub
I do contemplate a bit the vermilion of my toenails,
but ever so much more my seven-segment setting:
a stretch of pale-blue sky with clouds to spare,
a rare blue cliff alongside two of standard fare,
a natural wall of sandstone under nature's care,
a fairly blue sea daring to accost the rugged coast,
and this bath of waters altered with food-colorings.
I meditate on the magic of the cypher six-plus-one:
the seven days of the week (a lunar cycle as well),
the seven colors of the rainbow (no strain to see),
the seven wonders of the ancient world we inherited,
the seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer, or deadly sins,
the seven-note musical scale of western civilization,
seven seas for seven continents of the whole planet,
and seven brides (sisters?) for seven brothers,
akin to the seven beings who have remained around me:
the bare white-haired lady with creature companion,
the super shell conch with its very own scuba device,
the super-sized rubber ducky to add some perplexity,
to the peeking young woman with an otherly otter cap,
the real otter with smart eyes of determination and will,
and the semi-swarthy busty mermaid who's a siren
warning me of course with her fixed gaze and song
and luring me into a septagon of wonder and precipice.


My Water’s Gift

Each warm ripple in my bathtub drains to a wider ocean;
like Kahlo, I note, what the water gives me. My disembodied
feet will walk me up cliffs of desire, of adventure. I will fall
and break, some days. My selkies blow conch shells, eroded
by sand and sea, to blow a perfect pitch. Ill-disciplined
creatures, they colonise my willing, wayward mind. I shave
my fur, from two strong limbs, see strands float and choke
the overflow. Injured, Frida suffered more than me, told
her life more vividly. I am in awe. I'm like a quacking duck,
in comparison with her artist's voice and heart. Still, I will
create a lapping, bathhouse home for my daemon girls.
Rejoice in kicking against men's traces, learn from Frida,
live in singular colours, cascade my pain peppered with joy.


Sedna’s Celebration

Our wintery reprieve followed the Aura Borealis
& festival of lights as we reminisced how progeny
birthed from Sedna’s fingers severed at the knuckle;

astounded by her perfect feet that broke arctic waters
like whale flukes flaunting scarlet painted toenails
deeply digging into the ledge of a porcelain snowbank.

I patiently treaded water, glanced at my earth mother
& benefactor surrounded by salmon, cod, & halibut
below, accompanied by otter as my sister mermaid casts
eyes of admiration, seeking approval & encouragement
lounging on Sedna’s bare right leg like a hesitant siren
reclined on pink barnacle throne jutting out of the ocean.

An inanimate rubber ducky looked at us all
like a child who never got invited to parties—
jealous it couldn’t be the center of attention,
celebrate comradery, or join our seaworthy company
framed in sacrifice, a mythic kayak & self-centered
father whose daughter’s digitless pride aided our creation.

Only a platinum blonde sea sylph appeared disinterested
warmed her lap with a seal, petted its head, sat with back
facing Sedna, knowing—not acknowledging—their bond;

distant mountain crests embraced hoary blizzards
as iceberg threats, seen and unseen, respectfully turned aside,
venerating sea goddess Sedna, her children & bathtub craft.


Bath Time on New Year’s Eve

I’m ready for it, waiting
for the new day of a new year,
scrubbing myself pristine and sparkling.
I should rise like Venus,
but I lean back in the tepid water,
wallow in the saponaceous

calm and drift

feel my legs meld
watch stars gush on waves
to cover me with scales
listen to the soaring notes of whales,
guttural gulls’ warnings
and my sister’s

songs and sink

below the water line,
dive to where it’s navy,
away from the cerulean drift
to seaweed’s sensuous wavy
caress, a shoal of tiny, silvery fish
fingers on my cockled

skin and swim

Read more >


You have last seen us in mythology. We were there with Ulysses. We were there to help him. We sang more than enough. We made him who he is. We are here for you too. You, safe, sound, serene in a bathtub that could be the ocean, if you wanted to. We seek no trouble. Just a reminder, that's what we represent. Over blue and green and silver-dipped waves, across translucent horizons of the folly, over blank pages no longer purely white as they were, adorning crowned heads visible only to the bearer: you shall find us there. Look at us. We disturb and make noise. We heal. And we disappear. We transplant ourselves and we flap away, in turbulence and turmoil, transforming your past into bottled wishes no one can peek into or break or shatter anymore. You, the survivor of the seas of toil. Our tails tell the secrets of the keepers of all toils. Toils are magic, you know that. The magic of life.


Mermaid Cove

Early dawn invites them,
fin-tailed and fantastical,
into my Radox-fuelled bath;
they encircle me like rings
glimmering silver-incandescence
as they dive and frolic
searching for pearls.

Above the bath-top rim
I see their enclosed cove,
apart, private, mythological;
a dragon’s flame-soaked kiss
emits from a cave
as a candle at dinner,
warm and wholesome,
as the waters I now spin within.

One mermaid sits atop my knee;
raven locks frame her figure,
coiling as sea snakes,
lustrous as seaweed-polished pearls.

We become friends:
I speak of Christmas, dear family
as she narrates tales of the sea;
her seal kin play in the tub
adding acted embellishments
as she speaks; they are playful children,
holding onto each uttered word.

Read more >

Why She Keeps the Ocean Close

Friends and family think that she is burrowed
into the America of townhomes, drywall,
and numbered highways, of tenure
and ten-page papers.

But she has turned her bath into an ocean;
once-warmish water green with bath salts
from the mall consoles her.   She fixes her gaze
on the painted cliffs almost effaced by fog and sunlight.

She wills the specks of mold to become
seabirds, more than just gulls.
She hears them caw and call,
sees them swoop over the stony beach.

The selkies, her imaginary friends,
perch on the plaster-white bathtub,
perch on her clean-shaven thigh.
Like the cool girls, their seaweed hair flows.

They have all the time in the world
while she does not.  They look at her
blankly.  She wrinkles her nose
at their brackish scent.

They do not blink.  She imagines
the salt pervading each drop of ocean.
She will stay past tepid. She will stay
until bracing, until red and wrinkling.


Collective Noun for Mermaids

I once looked up the collective noun for mermaids and found that gossip was one.

a gossip of women sitting on the rocks,
talking of mortals they have loved
of abalone combs and
shell shaped jewels from the ocean’s deep
telling secrets of a shiny tail
and how to stop shedding scales…
so ageing…

a gossip of women in the hot tub at the gym
their stories all the same
fashion tips and beauty secrets
and talk of Love Island, though none
have known the red hot sex they see on
those small screens…
such gossip…

a gossip of women half-human-half-creature
hugging seals, stroking squid and octopus,
fearing sharks and sharp harpoons,
those women, always trying,
always drying their hair without
the aid of moose…
or conditioner…

Read more >

Swim with Dreams

The air becomes tactile right on the edge of a dream. Where reality hangs in suspense of the unknowing. It is that beautiful moment before waking. All this optimistic apprehension engulfs the air all around. The air breathed deep into your expanding lungs. Expanding like a new born. Expanding with the unknown direction you may choose to take next.
You know you are swimming in a dream. Next to the childhood tales of a mermaid, who dropped her purse on the shore. And mother would say; look now child, look now before it is gone, the mermaid has dropped her purse, why don’t you pick up that mermaids purse and return it to her, return it to her beneath the waves, quick before it is gone, run child, run to the shore. The sea-water mixing with the sand, glistening with the sunlight, makes your eyes like prisms. With all the light in the world refracting and colour bleeding, you run. Grabbing the seaweed in hand, you run. You run and dive into the depths. Into the depths of the painted memories on the shore. The air becomes tactile right on the edge of a dream. As you touch the lips of a future you have no idea who owns. You touch the hem of the beauty of a dream, stitched into this moment. This moment of optimistic apprehension. This new moment right on the edge of a dream. Right before waking, when your lungs are expanding. Expanding with the newness of knowing, you’ve just been swimming with dreams.


Date Night

'What’s wrong?' I ask the sulky selkies.
Fiddling with her sealskin on the edge of the tub, Fiona won’t look at me. Won’t hand me the razor.  
I try: 'What does everyone think of the new cherry nail polish?' First pedicure in a long time.
I wiggle my toes, splashing in the already unsettled waters of the bath.
Even Ciann, my best merfriend, is pouty. Staring at me, she squeaks a tiny, tiny 'Humph, Philippa.'  
It was she who had sung about plenty of fish in the sea when Dave left, and I soaked in gin and despair. Not even a lavender bubble bath could soothe me.  
'I’m done with human men,' I blubbered to the seal woman. 'What about the males of your kind?'
Ciann shook her head, wagged a flipper. 'No.'
I boohooed until she rolled her round, soulful eyes and hooked me up with Broll, her favourite of the sea. Fiona’s fav too, I hear on the waves.  
Ciann then hung her mottled coat on the bathroom door and, slipping on a sweater and jeans, came shopping. Found me a little black dress and — as I’m no longer as perky as she — a new bra. Kindly suggested I do my hair in long, loose mermaid curls.
So, frankly, it’s a bit odd and rather oily that, on this my big date night, there’s a sudden chill in the tub.


Never a Shower

My bath, my universe, my present, past and future
Relax, release, lie back in my time machine.  
The warm water wraps its welcoming arms around me
Drowsy and dozing, see ahead my condensation country
Where mirror mists miraculously part
To reveal magical mountains and fjords of delicate hue
In my bath world I see sister Susie transforming into a silky seal.
Upon my knee, my mermaid mother watches and protects me
Whilst ahead my ghostly Grandma sits, bidding me take care
And the rubber duck queen sees all.
I press my feet against the enamel, observing this bygone world,
Sibling in the middle, sharing baths
Sharing secrets and mystical make-believe.
Sundays, early evening, school tomorrow, fresh week
Soaped senseless over grubby knees, behind ears, back of necks.
Sensational stories told, and bubbles made rubbing palms together
Cupping at the fingers and heel of the hand.
Blowing gently as large drooping bubbles appeared
Burst with the dream time, until benignly we were lifted out
And pinkly dried, damp haired, human again, longing for bedtime
Soothed and soporific, ready for a new week to begin.
And now I luxuriate in my lone bath but I remember.


Of All Coats, My Own Fits Best

Because we dress for the weather and not for season. Or maybe it is the other way around. Because my thermal indicators on land and at sea are broken, unable to navigate the peculiarities of my temperature and take no account of my fear of water, even though my dreams, since the age of eight, have been consistently focused on saving a friend submerged. I hold my breath until my lungs burst. When I surface, a warm coat is held out to me by someone whose features I cannot distinguish. I have always wanted to know something of other worlds, I have wanted to escape my own dispositional vagaries. With appreciation to all of the shapeshifters of the world, I confess I am not one of them. By the edge of any body of water, I know who I am.  Within my coat, worn like armor, and with my eyes agape, I appreciate the unique talent, but one that is, ultimately, though not regrettably, lost to me.



'I don’t know my left leg anymore,' she says, in that new voice. 'It’s not mine, it’s the ghost of my leg.'
I drive her to physio, I reassure her, I help her to wash and dress, I paint her toenails rouge noir. 'You’re still you. It’ll come back.'
She dreams about Ravenscar, she says. Cycling down to the cliff tops, the seals, far below, pretending to be rocks until you see them move. Slump, slump, slump, so many slugs on their outcrops, then the sea takes them, and they transform.
'My voice, my leg,' she says. 'I need seawater, Rachel, I must learn to be a seal.'
I humour her, push her wheelchair through Whitby, battle the kerbs and cobbles, the old nappy bucket on her lap. I park her on the pier and fill it. We juggle it home, fill the bath and add the seawater.
Thirty years ago, she bundled me into this same tub and out again into a hot towel, immersion heater singe-scented, baby powder, cocoa. She keeps my bath duck, still. 'Rubber ducky, you’re the one.'
There was always just us. I knew there must be a fulcrum, a balance point, a day when the care-strength tipped from her to me.
We go every day with the bucket, share chips and cornets on the way, dodge the razorbills, Mother swinging her stick at them. She remembers how the wheels on my buggy refused the cobbles.
By day twenty, the bath is a little North Sea, cold grey, kelp and cracked shell. It smells of the lobster pots along the harbour, it has a current when the next bucketful glides in. She dips her good hand, wipes the brine over her face, laughs. I don’t ever think she will do it – she has the walk-in shower but she insists.  
'Soon, Rachel. Soon, I can be a seal.'


Sunrise Eco-Adventure

I was intrigued when I received a properly engraved invitation with a response card requesting the pleasure of my company for a party. The young couple is known for hosting avant-garde parties in Ipanema Beach.  

There’s a catch. To join the shoal of mermaids and mermen at Arpoador Rock for sunrise eco-adventure, a glitzy tail is required, top optional.

Who can resist watching Rio’s tropical sunrise and becoming one with nature swimming in the azure blue ocean with the dolphins and turtles.

Mermaiding eco-adventure awaits. RSVP pronto!


on life rafts & weekday baths

just when you think there is no way. forward. further. to forever feel. the spicket twists. the pocket pools. moods & plots turn. compass dials spin. north becomes south. east becomes west. water sprays then streams. subtle rains simmer then spread. layers of lilac & lavender linger. small pockets of air turn heavy. weight dissipates. worldly wonderings (& worries) dissolve. we wait. momentarily. of (& for) moments turned minutes turned mist. mostly mystical. sometimes mythical. zeus often appears in fog. mirrors become mirages. poseidon’s armies settle. hercules rises & rolls. sponges breathe. we bathe in spaces with no boundaries. in porcelain crates with no pores. toes stretch. time taps, then laps. softly. tick. tock. all tips engaged. stains blend with spaces previously secure. senses no longer enraged. paradoxes persist. minds on momentary pause. we make (then take) a bath (life raft).

12 (plus) ways to take (& make) a bath

1.    Plug paper tubes. Rotate tube dials.
2.    Stream tunes. Tune thoughts.
3.    Paint nails. Nail lyrics.
4.    Lock doors. Donate fleeting flocks.
5.    Consume flicks. Flick flies.
6.    Feather fine braids. Raid resources & cabinet balms.
7.    Pluck strays. Straighten recollections.
8.    Squish then push cotton towel blends. Consume push back of towels & fabrics.
9.    Prime (time). Stuff (fluff).
10.    Stave/starve seconds. Trash temptation.
11.    Wave to feathered friends. Waddle while wading. Wait to weigh.
12.    Persist amidst pandemonium. Fold fingers. Fold toes. Unfold fiction.


Mermaid Crystals

I ran to the door. There was no one in sight, but I spotted a small package tucked between two large flowerpots. It was lighter than I expected, and exquisitely wrapped in high quality Santa paper. The attached tag bore my name but not the name of the giver, a secret admirer perhaps.

I resisted temptation and didn’t unwrap it until Christmas day. There was a little note saying that the packing was biodegradable and could be disposed of with garden waste, and it seemed that packing was all there was.  Eventually, I grasped a small sachet. It was Fearless red, the same as my nail varnish, and there was bold, black writing on it.

Magic Mermaid Crystals.

I turned it over and there was smaller writing.

Tip all the crystals into your bath. Close your eyes and relax. Works best with salted caramel scent.

Now, I’m not really one for baths. I usually only have time for a shower, but I decided to make an exception for this, and after a few minutes searching I located a salted caramel scented candle. I ran my bath, tipped in the crystals, and lit the candle. I stepped in, lowered myself and closed my eyes, as instructed. Oh, the sheer luxury of soaking in warm water. As I was relishing the feeling, I felt movement on my leg and opened my eyes to see a mermaid sitting just above my knee, looking as though she had just swam out of a Waterhouse painting. She smiled, then sang a note of such clarity and beauty. The response seemed to come from afar, but soon some of her sisters surfaced in my bath. Two came in their sealskins, one took off her sealskin after she arrived, and another came in her mermaid form.

Read more >


Smile, they made her smile.
The line of yellow ducks grinned back at her,
Another day,
Ordinary for some,
But special for her,
Like the froth on her morning cappuccino,
Bought on her way to work,
That always sweetened her day.

The walk to work through deserted city streets,
A moment of peace and calm,
A chance to appreciate the beauty of the city, waking up.

The market traders all like her cheerfully setting up their stalls,
Friendly banter at 7am,
Joviality which invigorated her to face her day.
The scent of hot buttered toast and bacon rolls enticingly wafting around,
The weather cold, bright and fresh,
Welcoming the dawn of a spring morning after a frosty night.

Selling pre-loved and cherished books was her ideal job,
Discovering the stories of customers,
Was better than reading any best-seller,
Listening to their exclamations of delight,
When they found a well-thumbed copy of that treasured novel,
The one with special memories attached that they had been searching for.

Read more >

Bathing At The Edge Of Life

It was when the otter appeared that she realised things weren't quite right. One might imagine that the tiny tittering mermaids or the sea lion swimming circles around her left knee would have done the job, but hey, she’d had a lot on her mind that day.

“I will do nothing today,” she’d declared to herself that morning.

That hadn’t always been the plan. But then The Call happened—a day-ruining sort of call that would upset anyone. But for her, it was the final straw in a series of final straws that had been culminating for months, now weighing her down so forcefully she could no longer evade collapse.

So, she would do no work, no thinking, no nothing—aside from drawing a bath.

The bath had other ideas.

It had been normal at first, the scalding heat easing her burdens as she gently lowered herself into the tub. Lying back brought forth the kind of clarity that can only be reached at searing temperatures. This had been a good decision.

Then her phone began to ring, naturally.

She groaned. She could have sworn she’d turned it off. She refused to get out of the bath, refused to give in. It would stop ringing eventually, surely.

It did not.

Read more >


new year same bath water

new year same bath water;
that’s the beauty of unfinished business

south of the equator
where i usually go rogue
because the world scares me
less than my own life

and so it began:
swimming with old versions of me while
withered petals rose and fell in time
with the blowhole of my belly

pairs of eyes multiplying year by year, growing
like a collection in places i may never see
again save for in the water
’s reflection

lands old, but even more foreign
than the ends of the earth
where i usually begin…

i think i’m gonna like it here


The last time

You combed my hair,
It was a warm afternoon and
We sat in the verandah
Overlooking the wild vegetation.
Your fingers rough with age and work,
Head bent forward, do you remember mother?
The moment hung like the midges in the air
Stirring scarce.

You slip by my dreams
Like the sun drifting in clouds.
Droplets of time dripping from the yellow duck
Of childhood, cracked at the bottom,
Creating ripples in still waters
That I sit in tonight.
What you may have felt when I had left
Neither coming up nor drowning.


No Pity (for Matthea Harvey)

It's the selkies that did it, seeking mercy in reflective surfaces—
you don't get to feel sorry for yourself, you don't get to
drown. You don't get to be alone with your thoughts
when lithe bodies slip into the water. Let them float.
Let them come to you with their half smiles and
looming eyes, with their streamlined skin, a plug
in the drain. Feet against ceramic. Temperature
dipping. Look beyond the rim. They grow old.
You grow older. One space and moment and then
gone, but before gone, before long, before unwinding
the water down, see if you can breathe, just one breath

Then you’ll see suffering. No pity. No mercy.

Simply being.


Plastic Toy, Not for Seals

Brought in as the piece of artificial in a sea of real, rubber ducky found himself in an unfamiliar position. Surrounded by water, really his life-long desire, Ducky perched on the corner of a white tub filled with a variety of seals and women. Not bathtub seals, but the aquatic mammal. A mermaid, with a breast the size of a squishy Labrador pup, pink nose and all, stared pleadingly at the bather, whose feet rested to the left and right of the overflow drain.

Please kick up the water, Ducky pleaded. Let these foul creatures slip down the drain and into oblivion.

But each time the bather moved her toes, the conch swatted them with the bladed end of a razor.

With a heavy sigh, Ducky turned and leaped off the edge of the tub and into the seascape beyond and was never seen again.


a siren

in the sand i draw the map of an unnamed land. the waves wash it away, leaving me some of their salt. the sky bares a hole in its chest where the sun builds a daily nest; the moon tries and fails to patch it with her bare hands. lesson learned: the distance is a recurring wound. a siren sings under the guise of madness.


In dreams, I did traverse…

... the deep sea feeding on mackerel
clouds, herringbones, butter hearts of urchins,
orange blossom anemones, in dreams.

In dreams, I shipwrecked, barnacled;
I foamed and crested with seagulls;
I was the measure of all things, in dreams.

But I reside in a world of coffee
grinders, kettles, bathtubs – a litany
of feet, feet, feet that stamp, dance and

tiptoe across the wooden floor. I am
quotidian, school run, potato peel, waving
hello, waving goodbye. I am

mother, their home address, two hands
that knead and a skirt to run to. Should I
begrudge? Somebody's got my skin,

the one I was born in. In dreams,
in dreams, my husband and children
hold me captive.



The red-handled razor hums
on the tub’s horizon. Faces melt
into the fog as your lungs clear.
Another year and nothing
new but seals popping their heads
from the salted bath, long-haired
creatures with flippers grazing
your body’s eelgrass. They
are familiar, from a time before
your memory went blue,
when you scraped your legs
and left the house at night,
passed out in glitter
just before dawn. Now whiskers
float and pairs of eyes wait.  
Are your only colluders myth?
You don’t doubt what you see.


My Mother’s Shark Scream

It began one day in the bath.
Perhaps with a hair's breadth worm
tracing folds of her ear, moving inside to multiply.

Evading her t-cells, b-cells, logic,
it set something free that only she could see.
When the bathwater heaved with the wrong

kind of life she shouted for help:
black knots of eels, rat-sized seals with
needles for teeth, cockroach lobsters clicking.

Worse were the mermaids:
Barbies with trout tails, razor sharp scales,
her own wild eyes, panicky white.

Soon there were ropes of blood in the bath,
oozing, spiralling, stroking her thighs like kelp.
Sea flesh circled her fish-grey skin,

probing for ways back in.
Even her carer swooned at the sight of
her megamouth scream, wide as the tub,

oceans heaving deep in its brackish black.
As the plughole gagged on the dregs,
her mind clotted like fish eggs.



One red toenail. It’s real. I know this, because I think about wiggling it and it wiggles. The other toenails are real. I remember painting them, steadying my hand the best I could with Ryan bumping against me.
Tell me a story about seals, he screeched in my ear with every bounce off my arm.
Ten weeks his dad had been gone and dammit I just wanted five minutes of peace. Ryan, I’d snapped. Go away.
The duck is real, as real as the tears that sprung to Ryan’s eyes, as real as the sudden stiffness is his little shoulders. As real as the skin he slipped over his shoulder before diving into the water.
Five minutes, I’d wanted, five minutes of quiet. I silently sit at the edge of the water, and they slip on their skins, the seals, and they quietly stare at me. I look at them, all of them. Their faces, human and seal or melting from one to the other. I look at them and I don’t know if they’re real, but I know they’re not Ryan, so I sit with my duck and my toenails and wait.



—female spirit of fresh water

You expect so much from me, sitting there on my knee.
I think too much of you lot and all of your wants 
and needs and try to prioritize all these things. 
There's no space to think a thought for myself about myself, by myself.
You swore to never to look in at me. When you need answers, 
you splash in and stake your eyes on me expectantly, waiting for me to decide 
for you what you will do. If I suggest something you disagree with, you splash me 
in the face and tell me, "Think again!" When I don't answer you immediately, 
you pout and give me both of your clammy cold shoulders yet will not leave.
Your mood humidifies the air. 
You think I'm drowning in the lake of our home and still you flood me.
I'm able to swim by myself in this holy well unaided. 
All I need is the space to move my arms and legs in peace.
You made an oath to give me my privacy. Each time you break it,
part of me washes away from you.



It's January. Hot epsom-salted aquamarine waffles my skin in the white porcelain captivity tank. My captors like me to stay pretty with pedicures, polish, and with thin metal blades that scrape away my fur. A bright yellow conscripted role model, shiny and happy, reminds me of what I've allowed myself to become.

I'm a naked mammal in a small white pond. My sun is a low-watt LED.

They arrive in an air-tight pouch that has been planted in colored glass roundels at the bottom of a vase of Mexican hothouse roses. The signature on the card has a small star over the “i” in my name. The full moon is in seven days.

I have convinced them to go to the opera. The servants leave early for their cultural celebrations. Moon rise is early in January. The tea kettle whistles at 5.

Steam fills the room, rising like evening mist from the highlands. I lie back, eyes closed, nostrils wide, and sip the bitter brew. I suppress the rising gorge until bile-green, it sprays into the waiting bucket. I laugh and cough between heaves as my escape pod prepares to embark.

I hear splashing first, then a wheezing cackle. She wants to be the one who leads me back. Cradled in her arms is my firstborn, still a pup. She turns to me, her face a sea of wrinkles, a face I've seen a thousand times but is always a surprise. She pulls from her hair my shiny sea coat, hands it to me, then slips over the white wall and into the deep blue. It fits me, warm and tight; I blink my eyes and leap after her.

Read more >


The year Dad lost his job,
I wore kelp capes, swam west to the edge of the earth,
learned buoyancy alongside seals until my skin grew barnacles, briny mists swallowed me.

It didn’t matter that the sharp spears of deportation aimed for our slippery scales.

Here was better than there, so, I endeared myself to the salt and sea of Alta Califas,
papaya-colored garibaldis, anemone-decorated legs of wooden piers, gentle nurse sharks sweeping sandbars. After all, the ocean was in my chromosomes. I didn’t need an online test to confirm that.

Dad didn’t believe in God, you see?
Instead, he believed in the sea: in ships that took people away from dusty border towns and deserts—from la migra—to distant lands, like the sandstone cliffs of Orkney where mariner lore of selkie-folk refused to rust.

My Toltec father had caught one such lovely creature many moons ago, on a midsummer’s eve, in New York City: a pretty little lassie that vivified him, hair laced with the scent of a Scottish primrose, capillaries resounding a Norse drum.

The aurora of my zygote.

You should know that there are no directions for such a recipe. It mixes where it wants to, and resists where it doesn’t. It flops like a fish on sand one year, and sprouts primitive appendages the next, like a baby Cipactli. Some of us take longer to crawl onto land.

Yet, in the fluid whispers of water, everything is remade.

Read more >

The Selkie Ghosts

The first selkie ghost appears the day after Isabelle’s first birthday. I’m taking an hour for myself in the tub, while Will’s family take Issy on a nature walk. They want to put her down in the bluebells and take a picture of her looking angelic in her new pink dungarees, which she’ll have grown out of in a month.

I bet she’s screaming.

The selkie ghost slides from the overflow, plopping into the water by my feet. I scramble to sit up, sending a tidal wave of water across the bathroom floor. The ghost tuts, familiarly.


My grandmother’s ghost climbs onto the soap dish. She peels off her pelt and hangs it over the edge to dry. I slide back down, trying to hide my body under the bubbles.

“Why are you so small?”

“I could ask you the same question.” She leans back against the bar of soap.

She explains that she watches over me, as well as over my sisters who never gave away their skins.

“You don’t have to,” I say. “I’m getting along fine.”

She gives a “Hah!” and flops into the water, where she swims seal-formed around my ankles until I pull the plug and whirlpool her away.


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