A dyke like her who’s been around the block
a bit has heard it all before. Volcano, somewhere
near the Tropics, unexpectedly collapses. Tuffs,
the only witnesses, suspiciously fall in. So,
she’s been doing forensics on her knees,
dusting prints of giant centipedes in seams
of limestone six foot thick. She’s taken
statements from the alibis whose stories
never tally – brachiopods, trilobites,
crinoid stems, coral cups – recorded them
like ripple marks in rock. Then cordoned
off a cove where shifty-looking water
flowed and, sure enough, it blabbed
about the time when sand slid down
the shallow slopes below the old sea cliff.
Soon she had sandstone, siltstone, even
Dolomitic limestone queuing up to give
their versions. She shifted shingle
on the shore for any signs of slickensides
before her final tour de force. Who turned
sticky mudstone into clay? In unison,
they pin the blame on rain. But she’s
got all the evidence she needs
and brings them all to book.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2015. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2015 was Ken MacLeod.
Scotland was geology’s proving ground. Its practice has a lot in common with forensic science: reconstructing a past episode from traces left in the present. The point has often been made polemically. Here it’s made poetically, and with deft word-play.
‘CSI’ (Crime Scene Investigation) was written after a friend took me to see the fossilised tracks of a giant six-legged water scorpion in cliffs near St Andrews. At first I took a bit of convincing, but as she showed me more and more fossils on Fife’s beaches, I began to appreciate not only the richness of this coastline on my doorstep but also how forensically palaeontologists and geologists work to understand the narratives in rocks.