Rare Earths

Rare Earths

by Deena Linett

In Rare Earths, poet and novelist Deena Linett has created an intriguing and suspenseful story in verse. Mairi MacIntyre, a young archaeologist, travels to the desolate North Sea Island of St. Kilda where—in journal excerpts and letters—she comes to terms with her own repressed longings and inner life, and her ties to the women who once


In Rare Earths, poet and novelist Deena Linett has created an intriguing and suspenseful story in verse. Mairi MacIntyre, a young archaeologist, travels to the desolate North Sea Island of St. Kilda where—in journal excerpts and letters—she comes to terms with her own repressed longings and inner life, and her ties to the women who once inhabited the island.

Deena Linett has published two prize-winning novels, On Common Ground and The Translator’s Wife. Her poetry has been widely published in literary journals including The Missouri Review, in which ten poems from Rare Earths appeared in the 20th Anniversary Issue in May 1997. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Product Details

BOA Editions, Ltd.
Publication date:
A. Poulin, Jr. New Poets of America Series
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My Sister Anna Clare Writes from Lewis,
November 1833

If we had wanted abundance I suppose
we could have chosen another home.
This place is full of losses. When the boat

went down in the Minch it was a clear day
and the sea looked green and flat from here
though the currents have a mind of their own

as you know, and take who they will.
It was our Francis, and I can't say
I had foreknowledge. The sky was clear

and my heart light too, like the shallows
you see through to sand, and no stones.
The seals had gone, and the razorbills.

We had no thought, except the ones
you always do, the worry whispering
like the sea when it's still—you always hear it.

Like a child itself, the sea is. Once he's born
you never don't think of him, never don't know
what he's doing. Living here is like that.

And it's beautiful. Even when you forget—we did
this time—its treachery. If you could spare a wee bit
of comfort on the next boat we would be grateful.

    It has not been possible for us to locate the speaker or her sister. —Eds.

    Mary Angela Rose Writes from St Kilda, 1903

You think because I am a midwife I will talk of babies lost
that came in winter squalls, their mothers without milk,
the blood, white thighs. No.Though Iadmit the thighs will

sometimes move me. And the bairns. A person is not made
of stone. They wail. I oil and swaddle them. I study
small pale faces and sometimes I can tell the ones will live

a week, a year, and aye, I grieve over wee hopes lost,
the man he would have been, the bonnie lass. Here am I
with three names, a richness that discomforts me

in this poor place. My mother died as I saw light: in prayer
my father gave me holy names and bright, and in my time
I have replied to all of them. I no longer fancy living here

though on the mainland I would always be a stranger.
Here the land is fine, all stones and hills, but steep: hard to climb,
on the feet, hard to farm. Like a picture of my loneliness.

It may be on the mainland there'd be others more like me.
I like to watch the sun rise from the sea but not go into it,
and never look west: it's too empty. In all these years, only one time

did I bring out an unnatural child. Several born dead or marked,
but only one affrighted me. Afterwards I had bad dreams.
I was sitting on the beach—I never would do—and a boat,

tossed ashore, splintered and threw pieces on me, spar
and ropes and boards and nets: I sat in ruins under stars
as cold as sin. Then things of metal fell out of the sky

—but how could they?—stone and metal cannot fly
like birds. Rock and metals fell. They crushed
the sheep and tore the grasses, leaving gashes on our island.

Once I married but my husband went away to Shetland.
I felt for many years that I disgusted him. Even clean
I smelled of blood and milk. My work reminded him

of troubled ways that men and women come together.
Once I saw him watching sheep. I saw his mouth
all twisted, though he didn't know it. When birds come south

I sometimes think of him. Once a stick, I have grown stout
and I wonder what it would have taken. Perhaps nowt
would join us—even wee ones of our own—if he had remained.

    Satellite Photo

View from the south, over the Straits of Florida

Gleaming in its sheath of bluegreen air
and water, Florida's familiar body emerges
from black space and at the southeast edge

returns to it where the continental shelf
drops hard to darkness. The picture
doesn't show flat sandy country,

the wild variety of palm and fruiting trees,
the sprawling banyan at the Ringling Home
like circus elephants in stilled parade

around no tent. You can't see me walking
with an image of my mother, north
along a curve of Gulf, the water blue

as the insides of shells, as her eyes.
You can't see me spying—as when a fan
of palm fronds separates to let the wind

come through, or in a drift of vision
just beyond a clump of pines—Florida
in the forties and fifties, dusty, somnolent,

and dull, unselfconscious in its finery.
You can't see me leaving a man
I first loved thirty years ago and likely

will not see again. From 200 miles up,
what's visible: countless sweet blues,
the sandy littoral, swirls and brightness

in the shallows. Through cloud—fizz
like painted glitter on a painted sea—
erratic rounds of lakes, hammered silver

spangles planned, as for a necklace, in a row.
Then, the Maker suddenly distracted, dropped
at random all the way to Okeechobee,

just north of where the country hollows
like a bowl to hold the grassy inland sea. Home
hangs off the vast expanse of mainland

like a dollop of sweet cream or a drop
of seawater, heavy at the bottom, trailing
islands, a few drops blown to westward.

    Silk Dress

In my heavy new silk dress, dark blue,
I have come to know it fully: you are dead
beneath palm trees. Never the crush
of your arms, never your thigh thrust

between mine. Your voice never.
In my empty house I call your name out
—foolish girl—and like the girl I was
when you were here, shout. Echoes rush

into space like radio waves, straight off
into the dark where you are
where I will go, though not because you're there,

good dear, and I want you. I want you here
between me and the dark, quick
flesh, that fluttering small light, its guttering wick.

Meet the Author

Deena Linett is Professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She has published short fiction, non-fiction, and two prize-winning novels. She received 1996 and 2002 fellowships to the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland. Linett was awarded a 2004 residency fellowship to the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators, Sweden.

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