Deborah Gearing


( ‘La femme qui porte les lettres de la poste’, the woman who carries the post, is mentioned in the records of the French Church, 1704)



They do not know/I do not tell them
that I have pressed myself into
the walls of the Tower,
skin on stone.
That I have eaten the dust.
That I have lain on the floor
and offered myself,
skin on wood.
That I have washed my eyes on the river.
That I have flung my voice
up the stairs and onto the Tower roof
and back down the stairs to the iron-studded door
and like a monk hoping for miracles,
chanted and sung to the stones,
which did not hurl themselves in to the sky.

All this I have taken away
to sit in contemplation of white paper,
to empty my breath
and squeeze out of my pores
the walls, the light of the sky on water,
the darkness, the smell of ancient sea creatures
calcified; and the imagined
                                                        of a voice
a voice
from the past caught in my clothes.


I ask my son,
who studies sound,
how to read an imprint
left by a voice
on a stone.

‘It doesn’t work like that –
The vibration travels on
or is bounced back’

‘What if a sound is long
or strong enough?’

‘Potentially, potentially.
Those aren’t quite my terms, but
it might force a rock apart
It wouldn’t be something you can hear.’
He knows I want to believe
in the hurling stones, propelled to the top of cliffs,
powered by monks chanting and trumpets,

‘It’s not what you’re thinking.
There are no stone tapes.
There is no evidence.’


How shall I find her now?
She doesn’t even have a name.
They took her letters, they gave her letters –
Les Sieurs Jean Thomas, LeBlanc, Cabot.
She was entrusted with secrets
not to be taken from the church.
But she is not named.

For hours I beat out her path from the chapel of St Julien
to the arch of God’s House Tower.
Again and again.  And again.
I walk fast
then slow.

Sometimes I stand in the shade of leaves
waiting for the trance,
observing any small change
out of the corner of my eye.

(There is a trapdoor in the archway above the gate
to the chapel,
A bee nuzzles for a cranny in the mortar.)
I turn back to the Tower,
and my footsteps ring on the road.
The air is empty.

How shall I find her, how shall I write her.
Her thin bones are powder,
even the sea creatures are crumbling.
I can place my whole hand in the eroding stone
of the tower,
there are roots, insects, ants.
Nature grows over unwanted homes,
displaces the lifeless.
Nothing is the same.
Has it all travelled on, all of it?


A branch full of birds bursts into an old quarrel.
Through the Tower archway there is traffic.
A bench.
Darkening pavement.
The faint spatter of drops on paper gives way
to the thud, the beat of eternal rain.
Tattoo of stumbling footsteps as I gather my papers
Drum of my heels as I run to take shelter.


La femme qui porte les lettres:
The footsteps
                             the poem.

SHIFT – with Jilly Evans


A response to the history of GHT as a prison, where women were set to sew.  Jilly created a shift and embroidered it with this poem.  She also created an identical shift, without the poem, for Beth Cleeter to wear as Mary Rowsell in the performance of Stone Soup.  After the performance the empty, worded shift hung in her place – a silent echo of the lives of imprisoned women.

Deborah Gearing & Jilly Evans SHIFT
Deborah Gearing & Jilly Evans SHIFT

After seven long years, will you still know me?
Ballad of unnamed women awaiting transportation

Oh my darlin’,
when will we be set on the sea?
I am lost
from the world’s gaze and I forget
what I look like.
Hooded in blankets, we are beasts,
with the slow breathing of beasts, huffing
sour breath onto our fingers.
Mist rises out of us.  Oh, the river is in us.
Oh, my darlin’,
been cold before, but never like this:
this cold shears the skin off our bones.
After seven long years, will you still know me?

On dark nights we are invisible,
even to each other.
When the full moon glances
through the window we lift our shifts
and ask her silver loveliness
to show us our breasts.
I never heard the sea rage so.
It hurls itself against the Hard,
Slap after
slap after
slap all night.
It wants us.
Oh, my darlin’,
When will we be set on the sea?