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A Mermaid Returns to the Sea by Jenny Lester

Jenny Lester writes on rape culture, transphobia, the climate crisis and elemental women in ‘A Mermaid Returns to the Sea’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

It’s tough to be a mermaid in the bath.
The taps dig in to my fin
My tail doesn’t quite fit
The water doesn’t move without me
And I can’t move like I could in the sea.
My voice has no echo through currents here

My skin longs for the kiss of salt
The taste of wind
I miss that dark abyss
I’m displaced and thinned and remiss

But I know that I need this

The unkindness of the ocean
chased me from my home, to hiding
A kraken-sized beast rests
Writhing beneath the surface

Its face plastic, ‘Smile’ it says
Its lips oil spills, ‘where are you going, love?’
Ice melts and swells, ‘Hey I’m talking to you’

The cat called for fishes and I found myself on their plate.
Through my cheek a hook, a line,
Sink Her.
Gut the fish and eat her.

We resist, some frozen in stillness
But they persist
More hooks, and lines, more broken tales.

Each of my sisters has a story to sing of such a soul stolen from us.
Until the ocean I once knew is filled with empty ghosts.
Each coral reef a remembrance wreath
I knew I needed a break from this space.
An escape so

I left

Wrung the hopes out my hair
Ripped the shells from my scalp
Peeled scales from skin
Let flesh creep over my gills
Let air breathe in –


Cocooned in porcelain

Until I can find the sharpness I need
To cut myself open at the neck
Let it all stream out
Salt and blood.
Return to the sea
To the battle I know it will be
Newly cut gills sting
But I will return to sing
From the heart
They will not
Drown me out.

Read this while listening to ‘Breathe Easy’ by Rachel Sermanni.


Jenny is an Edinburgh based poet, feminist activist, Gaelic learner and D&D player. This year she won the Glasgow Women’s Library Digital Slam. She has previously been published by BBC The Social and Lies, Dreaming. She has performed at various nights across Scotland, including: Loud Poets, Inky Fingers, She Grrrowls, and the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Slam. She organises International Women’s Day poetry events and has created a zine of her poem Ode to the Clitoris which you can buy directly from her or independent bookshops Lighthouse and Typewronger.


I wrote this poem in response to the prompt ‘Elemental Women’ for the Glasgow Women’s Library digital poetry slam.

I find it very difficult to relax in a bath. My mind just starts making lists of all the things I have to do. I prefer to swim to relax, it gives me something to focus on.

The voice of the poem is restless, tired and defiant. It is about knowing you need a break, but finding it hard to have one. It is about rape culture, transphobia, and the climate crisis and how much fighting these things can take from you. It is about feeling surrounded and overwhelmed by these issues; feeling powerless to do anything about them. But, after some respite, deciding to do something anyway.

This piece was first published during Glasgow Women’s Library’s digital poetry slam at Open the Door 2020.

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