The Safety of Maps

Isle of Tiree, 2001.

This morning, coming down into dawn

I see you have left the map on the table
spread out, so we know where we are.

Latitude, 56 degrees, 31 minutes north.
Longitude, 6 degrees, 48 minutes west.

We can place ourselves exactly here
in time and temperate century

among the ruins we do not own
but which belong to us

beside the church which holds 
the bones of your grandfather Neil

and in every stone of this house
we did not build, but live in.

The Genealogist


In Kirkapol, you dissect lichen in hope 
of another clue, tease it from tombstones.

Meanwhile the clouds go wild and the crazy light 
of Tiree is dancing on the backs of sheep.

You prise open books for the taking of names 
steal the smallest print, prepared to go blind.

You do not notice the sun go out or the fields 
turn brown, do not hear the rustling of small birds 

in dark grass, disturbed by your ancestors 
taking the coins off their eyes.


Julie Leibrich has published poetry, children’s stories, and books on mental health and criminology. Born in England, she has lived in New Zealand since 1974. Her first collection, The Paper Road, was published in 1998 to excellent reviews and reprinted in 2001. Her work is in numerous magazines, including Poetry NZLandfallSportThe NorthEnvoiKalimat, and The Dalhousie Review, and in over twenty anthologies. She has received awards both in New Zealand and Britain and two major grants from Creative New Zealand.