Northwords Now Issue 36

The FREE literary magazine of the North

A Seat at Cailleach Farm

by Sharon Black


She lumbers over marsh and machair –
coat tails flapping, stick feeling the way.

Ewes huddle by a five-bar gate.
An empty bucket rattles on a post.

The farmer’s truck is absent.             
The pier is empty, the dirt track too.

Only the gulls bear witness as they curve
above the fields, the pebbled yard

with its wooden bench, a brass plaque
engraved Cailleach.


Don’t cover me in winter
while the barn owl’s still roosting,

the white heart of its face
dipped to its chest. Let me

be adrift in a bog of flag irises,
sun in my throat

and earth in my voice. Let me
take it all in, in huge gulps

then in sips. Let me lift the soft bright wings
of darkness to my lips.


She walks and walks, her basket
spilling boulders that roll

to the sea, boulders big enough

to land a boat on, build a home.

On they tumble: basalt walkways,
cliffs of gneiss and tuff, granite columns

landing upright in the fields. From time to time
she takes a chisel

and tames a fallen rock in the image
of a hare, gannet, weasel, otter, eel.

At the bay, she tips the remnants of her cargo
into the Atlantic: stepping stones

that will be named for islands
when the animals break free.

Note: In Gaelic mythology, the Cailleach ('old woman’) is a creator deity as well as a destructive Storm Hag.