Issue 21: Gerrie Fellows

smoke screen   fragments

Tarfessock   (697m)

from sunlight under upturned layers

through vapour     afoot in grass   

turned up     underfoot

a canister shucked from a rucksack   

its shining pin, unloosed     a smoke screen     

                      call it grenade, hand

                      (call it L83A2)

split branches, loosed   (agency, human) 

in this treeless    (call it) training ground

bivouac detritus ditched by squaddies 

erratic        between granite boulders   

                     ice-carried towards us

                     call it brae or rig

                     (call it NX413 888)   

a tumbled wall

above the map's last contour  

clouded-in     780m on Kirriereoch    

                     call it lost     (spot height 786m

                     a pinpoint in a smoke screen)

the descent, a bearing     unsighted 

a broken wall      fence posts (e)merging    

each next (NX414 870)     obliterated    

where iron disintegrates in pooled lead shot

to blocks of forest     a river crossing

(NX388 877)     safe over      (call it safe   

thigh deep in pooling dark)

to take high tea on the high track   

(black with seeded rolls)      (NX388 881) 

rain splintering      quartered

by our headtorch beams     (call it black   

seeded with light   as if through driven snow)

to find the road (un-numbered)      cloudbound

each next diamond to diamond sign 

a lit flare in full beam

Timeline with Found Objects

(Three poems from Harrapool, Skye)


First or last     conical stacks built upwards   

slabs lifted dried turned dried  

spring to summer repeated

white peat a flare to fire

half-rotted down to earth 

a ground of discoloured stainings   

not sienna nor umber   

the tonal earths of other places

moisture-laden colour of peat 

the blade cuts down through

leaves and roots     float of sphagnum 

interred     anoxic

stacked time

of the peat column's seamless levels

to the treeline


what it is we were making of this earth  

climate     tillage     cut back to a spark   

volcanic ash    residues of pollen

the long burn of blue peat  

down to clay     glaciated rock  

what is found there  

                   an acorn's half cup     stained dark

                   knotted bog oak bark

                   sheen of a twig 

                   debris of the treeline

                   fallen back in time 

                   forward into our hands  


The croft house   

a space we occupy    

between so many others     arriving 

week by week     year on year

to eat     sleep     be     here and now 

                                                              and then

(our comings and goings

already in our own past)

we are observers of doorframes  

windows on a time    (even our own uncertain)  

through the longitudinal data of history

back to long strip cultivation   

a map survey, 1876         

the croft house here, we think

and its ruined original

but the map offers

no knowledge of who it is we look for

as if we could find them in roof space rafters 

the shape of a window     (the shape

of mouths and of the language forming)

the unverified evidence of our own observation

the language in which we speak of this

a structure both solid and open     known and uncertain  

                   but there in its place

                   framed   a small view of            

                   a mountain   unchanged      

                   in the scale of vision  

                   shifts ceaselessly

                   in cloud and sunlight


Why count uncounted shells 

or fossil shells     or the simpler tally 

of beachcombers searching the fossil line

between them time figured in weeks or years 

what is carried away      what remains 

in the soft matrix of siltstone or mudstone   

hard enough      each in its hard niche      

the tidal wash uncovers the friable layers  

a time exposure     like a camera 

(a memory      our fossil photographs)

or the human eye      blinking open

the movement in this is a shell

without propulsion in a drift of silt      without

its soft-bodied creature      its tenacious inhabitant

it is only a house      a husk

laid down and overlaid

a movement of waves against mud    

the push of deep ocean's chargeless turbines

sifting grains      physical and minute

                   compacted beds of fossil oysters   

                   devil's toenails plunged into mud

                   fanned bivalves       scalloplike

                   prized black spirals and their cupped negatives

                   a lightness or weight

                   carried home      

                   to windowsill or boundary wall     

                   my hand lifts and places           

Gerrie Fellows is a New Zealand-born poet who has lived most of her adult life in Scotland. Her most recent collection is The Body in Space (Shearsman, 2014). Other work includes several book-length sequences, including Window for a Small Blue Child which explores the technology, imagery and experience of fertility treatment, and a prose and poetry sequence, The Powerlines. A new collection, Uncommon Place, poems about Scotland and the nature of place, is forthcoming from Shearsman in 2019.

Copyright © 2018 by Gerrie Fellows, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.