Issue 31 – 2020 – Susan Tichy

On Foot with Oppen | Muckle Roe


to altar    what we cannot alter
unlimited drift    stone-on-stone
impenetrable    if true    this
resistant ounce    adapted to the order
of islands    their waves & drongs
inhuman lives    of the wind
I had hoped to arrive    at an actuality
its boundary or    prediction point
a single balance    forced from three
directions :  to north (now rare)
a turning or    a setting out
—arrival not    in the definition—
deeps of granite     broken
bloomed    cliff path turns
to trace a lochan    bench
a hill    the stacks cleft
by water govern    water
as waves divide    then cross
like a wrinkled cloth    blue-silver
surface    inshore green    an arc
which awaits    nothing
the fact bewildered    bewildering
as each wave beaches    returns
its water    to water  :  between
red-granite sand    & cliff
a pale drift    wind-blown    shell-light
a fold-within-fold    that does not
repeat    does not    begin
to shield us from open     time
a singular wreck    of rock
& step    cold wind above
the footpath    unsteadily moves
& changes  :  astonishment
that if it strikes us    we are truly
here    a state of matter
impenetrable    as lichen jigsaws
a boulder’s face    the force
of days
    light of three seas
to rescue the image    bereft
on its chosen    ledge


Kettla Ness | ‘Between Walking & Watching
The Whole World Slips


goes missing’    as cloud-light
drains    through schist
& granite    a vanishing path
of sun-snow    wadder-ga
wakening wind    to a noon
dark    original skin
of loch water    riffled black
then silver-black    misspelled
to a clean    thread

pull to unravel    or pull
up path    from mix
& mire    as boot slips
into waste    & waiting
into waar sea    & gravity
gathering    to wag & wary
wail & wares    as waves
like words    alliterate
begin in sameness    break
on rocks    who

is listening    who will gather
fail & falter    watch & wander
wadder/watter    wagtail    wan
at waa    see run    a sea
unraveled    in false sun
of wadder-bitter    war & warn
as wind wasters    clears Foula
whitens waves    in the West Geo
washes salt    to the watter-land
where words    & steps
wind into one another until    they don’t


Skaw Beach | A Turbidite


phrased by reading
what had been laid down
sequential, upended
its graded layers
a form apart
from itself
track of motion
within motion
of riverbed
on ocean bed
line, mark, shadow, mark
each weight & texture
ledged, aslant
reared up
through sand :
land as a vessel
of vertigo
duration a figure
for grief, grief
a figure for matter
itself, each point
of shatter echoing
a sea before
this sea—
its syntax cut, suffused
by quartz veins
a violence now
within itself
a gleam, a glimpse
of what
we cannot know :
land before fear
as in prior
or how
to speak before
a planet’s




Drongs = offshore stacks. Ness = a headland.

“Kettla Ness | Between Walking & Watching the Whole World Slips” takes its title from Brian Teare’s “Olivine, Quartz, Granite, Carnelian” (Doomstead Days. Nightboat Books, 2019) & pays homage to the fall narrated there, in dialogue with Shaetlan weather words: wadder (weather); watter (water); wadder-ga (a sun dog); war (worse); a waar sea (heavy sea that brings waar—large-leaf seaweed—to the rocks); & waster (to wester; of wind, to turn westerly). A geo (pron. “gyo”) is a deep cleft worn into cliffs by the sea.

In “Skaw Beach | A Turbidite” italicized phrases are metamorphics formed by coring through E. Tracy Grinnell’s portrait of a lesser subject (Ellis Press, 2015).



Susan Tichy is the author of six books, most recently The Avalanche Path in Summer (poems, mountains) and Trafficke, a mixed-form investigation of family, race, and language, both from Ahsahta Press. Her work has been included in the National Poetry Series and recognized by numerous awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. These poems are from North|Rock|Edge: Shetland 2017/2019, f/c from Free Verse Editions. Now Professor Emerita at George Mason University, she resides in Colorado.