Fossil Hunting at John Lennon Airport, Liverpool by Jude Nutter

Some poems linger in your mind long after you've read them. Everyone has a favorite poem. If you haven't found yours yet, remain with us; every Sunday, we'll assist you in your search. Visit SML to read Tina Gross's favorite poem Fossil Hunting at John Lennon Airport, Liverpool by Jude Nutter, which she is sharing with us as our guest editor. Perhaps it will be yours as well.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer.

Our current guest editor is Tina Gross.

Tina Gross presents Fossil Hunting at John Lennon Airport, Liverpool* by Jude Nutter.

I’ve loved this poem since I first heard it in a Loft class with Jude back in 2014, so I was delighted to encounter it again a few months ago when my copy of her heart-shattering new book, Dead Reckoning, arrived in the mail. So many things about this poem stay with me, but some of my favorite parts are details that appear to be ancillary at first glance, like “Every metaphor is a lie,” the speaker listening to static on the airplane headphones, and “half the universe, / said one scientist, has gone missing, / so some kind of rethink is on the agenda.” 

–Tina Gross

Fossil Hunting at John Lennon Airport, Liverpool
Jude Nutter

On 25 July, 2005, John Lennon Airport unveiled its new terminal building.  Although technically JLA is a state-of-the art building, inside it is constructed of limestone slabs that contain fossils of creatures that lived up to 250 million years ago.  The limestone is from a quarry near the small town of Solnhofen in Germany.  Today, Solnhofen’s owners, with the cooperation of the German government, allow visitors to hunt for fossils and take them home without filing reports or paying duty. The slabs of the airport contain millions of fossils.
……From the brochure “A Guide to the Geology of John Lennon Airport” by Joe Crossley


There is something reminiscent of trust, 
of a living animal curled in on itself 
and tightly sleeping; something disturbing 
in the way it is sliced so cleanly 
open, exposing the dark 
undulations of the septa, like curtains, 
between each chamber.  On Level 2
the statue of Lennon is striding 
over the largest ammonite in the airport,
but I like this one, here, on Level 1, 
on the floor of the ladies toilets, 
third stall from the left; and I am thinking 
about harm and vulnerability when the door 
to the stall next to mine bursts open, 
then closes.  I hear the chrome latch rattle
into its bracket, and then, suddenly, 
she is talking and weeping at the same time—
something about a brother in Geneva
who fell from a scaffold and is locked 
in a coma, and I realise she’s on her mobile, 
and her parents, I discover, are on holiday
in Seville.  And she can’t reach them.  
There’s the little storm of someone 
brushing their teeth, taps 
blurting on, then off, and an insect 
chorus of handbags and cases 
zippering open.  She could have left sooner, 
she says, but couldn’t find her passport, 
and now, she says, she is certain 
she won’t reach him in time.  Between us, 
where the thin partition doesn’t meet the floor, 
the small, dark and perfect torpedo 
of a fossil I cannot name.  She’s on the next flight out, 
she says, which leaves in two hours and oh god
she says, we are all so alone and I feel so afraid
and I just wish I could hold you.  I watch 
the fretting shadow of her hand as she talks.  
Three hours later, halfway to Berlin, I’m weeping 
into my complimentary in-flight beverage, 
with nothing but static on the audio,
which I listen to anyway because static,
I read, is remnants and tatters
of The Big Bang, and because I am thinking 
about that woman on her way to Geneva—
the place where antimatter was trapped at last 
for a tenth of a second, and half the universe
said one scientist, has gone missing, 
so some kind of rethink is on the agenda.
What hope is there when even the gods 
we invent can be known only by their absence.  
In Schönefeld my passport vanishes 
beneath the bulletproof window
and is handed back.  And then the frosted 
doors whisper smoothly apart like curtains 
and there he is—the man I desire 
beyond all reason, lounging in a black 
upholstered chair.  How was your flight,
he says, and I nearly fold down onto my knees 
before him and say, there’s a woman, 
right now, in Geneva, beside the bed 
of her comatose brother and I spent two hours 
looking at fossils and have been undone 
by the evidence of life’s lost argument 
with time and, oh god, we are all so alone 
and I feel so afraid, and the whole way here 
I was tuned in to the residual radiation |
of the universe, weeping into my tomato juice 
and pretzels.  But I wait for him to stand 

and then I take him into my arms and I hold him.  
I simply hold him.  It was fine, I say.  Just fine.

Intermission in Berlin

The sweatshop of summer and the mute ache
of noon along the limb of the river

and the table’s blue umbrella has us
in the diffused climate of its colour.  On the streets

the women bare their skin and, this being Europe,
wear their nipples like jewelry.  And I am tired

of how lust between people passing on the pavements 
rises up with no history attached, even though

there have been men with whom I was naked
only once.  My lover is heedless of everything

but his Linzertorte and latte, and I begin to talk
about the woman in Geneva, about her brother,

and her parents—who, even then perhaps, were oblivious
still and happy somewhere in Spain—and the fossils 

with the secret rooms of their bodies 
fixed open.  After two hours, I say, of scrutiny, 

what I liked best of all were all the traces, all
those clues of passage—the tail tracks and footprints,

the burrows and castings—because this, I say, 
is what art is, after all: not the physical 

evidence of the body, but the record
of its forays into daily living.  Every metaphor,

he says, leaning back in his chair, is a lie.  Yes,
I think, every metaphor’s a lie, and that

is its triumph because it has us believing 
in what we cannot see, because the world is always 

other than what it is.  And I think about how
when I undress him, freeing small buttons, stripping

back layers, it’s because I want to believe
there is somewhere further to go.  There is, I say, 

leaning over to pinch the last of his torte, 
somewhere I want you to take me.  Behind him 

the willows along the river trail their long green knives.


We take a room at the Gasthof Sonne
with its window boxes of petunias 
and sweet alyssum.  We have a view 
of the garden, its lawn striped and crisp

from the shuttle of a recent mowing.  Limestone, 
we read over breakfast, is not quarried, 
but won, and won by hand, and it’s been won 
here, by hand, since the Romans first favoured it 

for their floors and walls.  At the public quarry 
we pay our fee; we unpack our brushes 
and gloves, our chisels and mallets, and begin 
on the winnings the Master of the Quarry 

rejected after tapping every single plate 
with his hammer, listening for the pure, 
high note of unflawed stone.  All morning 
on our knees we work, talking about the Romans 

who dug here, who measured and displayed 
their fossils, who ploughed up bones and massive teeth  
from the fields and from them created 
their myths of giants and heroes.  For whither

asked Lucretius, shall we make appeal? for what
more certain than our senses can there be
whereby to mark asunder error and truth?
But that empire is gone.  I think of my parents

inside the long fists of their coffins; of that man 
in Geneva, who may have already abandoned 
the antechamber of his coma and become,
even for his sister, nothing but history;

I think of the fossils, the coils 
of their diminishing rooms, of how I’d stood,
head bowed, while those around me 
queued at check-in with their fussy carry-ons, 

flashing their passports, unpocketing coins
and keys and stepping out of their shoes 
and folding their coats and jackets, 
and then waiting, while those trays 

holding all their belongings moved away 
like little grey boats, until, waved forwards, 
they had each passed, one by one, through
to the other side.  And even though the body’s 

nakedness is not a metaphor, I want to place 
my hand on the nape of my lover’s neck; 
I want to beguile him back to that hotel bed 
with its sheets of Egyptian cotton 

and wrapped sweets on each fat pillow.  
But I can tell he’s a man who has escaped, 
for now, even the necessity of his body—
that every ache and every discomfort, every lust 

and hunger, has fallen away and, yes, 
every metaphor’s a lie, but the point 
is to keep your eyes on those rafts of stone and admit
that the dead stay dead forever, and recognise, 

between two oblivions, this brief, dream-slick 
threshold each one of us calls our life.  And so, 
I simply watch him as he labours, as he adds
to the scree pile of treasures beside him, shirtless, 

head bowed, on his knees, his torso flowered with dust.


Jude Nutter was born in North Yorkshire, England, and grew up near Hannover, in northern Germany.  She studied printmaking at Winchester School of Art (UK) and received her MFA in poetry from The University of Oregon.  Her poems have appeared in numerous national and international journals and have received over forty awards and grants, including two McKnight Fellowships, The Moth International Poetry Prize, The Larry Levis Prize, The William Matthews Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Award, and grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the National Science Foundation’s Writers and Artists Program in Antarctica.  Her first book-length collection, Pictures of the Afterlife (Salmon Poetry), winner of the Irish Listowel Prize, was published in 2002. The Curator of Silence (University of Notre Dame Press), her second collection, won the Ernest Sandeen Prize and was awarded the 2007 Minnesota Book Award in poetry.  A third collection, I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman (University of Notre Dame Press), was awarded the 2010 Minnesota Book Award in poetry and voted Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord Review, New York.  Her fourth collection Dead Reckoning was published by Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2021.  She currently lives in Minneapolis, and divides her time between Minnesota and Dingle, Ireland, where she has a family home.


* [previously published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review (Summer 2013) and Dead Reckoning (Salmon Poetry 2020)]

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