David Morley


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For a selection of new poems from The Gypsy and the Poet please visit David's page at Poetry International Rotterdam.





or pateran,

pyatrin, or sikaimasko.

The marker used by Roma

that tells others of their direction,

often grids of branches or leaf-twists or

bark-binds. Used for passing on news

using prearranged forms, patterns

or permutations of these. Yet

it also means a leaf or,

simply, a page.



Simply, a page

yet it also means a leaf

or permutations of these

using prearranged forms, patterns.

Bark-binds used for passing on news,

often grids of branches or leaf-twists

that tell others of their direction.

The marker used by Roma:

pyatrin, or sikaimasko,

or pateran.





The Lucy Poem


‘With rocks, and stones, and trees’



‘Lucy’, Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2m BC:


As her eyes accommodate

  from the billion-leafed glitter

of deep jungle, the walker

  spies prayed-for water where

the sun bounces like a saiga

  off the savannah.

This is fresh to her:

  to watch forwards rather

than clamber to seek. Sand grains

  slither under her slim feet.

Despite the drowsing civets

  and wild dogs, she steps her

soft track behind her clear

  so her friends might follow.



She can sense as much water

  in her breasts as in the earth;

except there is a denial of water

  even in ground-air: only whorls

of liquefied heat you find above

  elephant-tracks or the tread

of limestone beds.  Tiny streams

  start at the hoof point of beasts—

mirages and fractured mirrors.

  On the plain she glimpses

air-rivers and flat inland oceans

  of light above which mountains

flicker: arks of snow wrecked

  on their crowns—the roof

of Africa, sunstruck then shadow-

  halved then forestial

with star-flowers. To her

  those highlands seem

an escape of stone, an island

  blown inland by the simoom,

dust-devils spinning the land

  grain by grain into place.



Her mother’s stories tell how

  when those mountains

bloomed from underworld lodes

  springing geladas led their fat

appetites to the snow-caps

  muscled like woolly gods;

and then the gorillas lurched

  through the forests to steal

their high hammocks. Her mother

  believes the star-flowers

shrove the geladas, scolded them;

  those monkey-gods were elved now,

scarced in shape. The summits

  themselves diminished too:

they wept so hard they

  no longer kept the season

but wore their water as snow-

  necklaces, ice-pearls…



When the waterhole went

  wolves ran with their thirsts

higher than fur could manage:

  they loped the dry courses

to their source, lapping parched

  stone where water buried its song

and as they pounded upwards

  seeking the wet tongue

of that voice, so the geladas

  skittered, bounding higher

up that mountain roof

  until they regained the snow

and turned to stare

  from its gleaming ridge.



The wolves fathered

  a line of grey wolf-stones

below the snow, staked

  them for years, while below

the plains wilted to sand;

  the forest breathed

its leaf-litter in and out

  until one day it breathed in

maggots and breathed out

  blowflies, and our walker woke.



Overhearing melt-water

  our walker wakes; she balances

her thirst against the night’s dew,

  steadies herself to the climbing

track, unloads her step behind her

  one by one. Shadows moisten

her heeled hollows; the moon’s

  sun sets her prints as stone,

and she senses herself neither

  walk nor walker, striding the hill

in the light of all she knows—

  geladas guarding the white

heights; star-flowers

  glistening in crevices;

the crouched wall

  of wolves;

the high snows,

  their wells

of prayed-for





You Were Broken


for Les Murray


The amazed, massing shade

for the glacial valley, made

from a single araucaria

that smashed its way

by micrometers of birth-push

under five centuries of dusks

of carbon dioxide and rainfall,

while the volcanic rocks made landfall

against its unrolled, harbouring roots;


and the roots took the rocks in their arms

and placed them, magically,

like stone children, about itself

as it unfolded its fabulous tale:

of the wood heart mourned to flint

by slow labour and loneliness,

by what it could not reach, yet see

at distance, and of the sound of that sea,

and of the cruel brightness


of butterflies and grasses,

foreknowledge of their brevity,

of a heard stream, overhearing

prints of otters on its plane stones,

gold wagtails sprying over

the gravel and shallows of courtship;

of orange blames of gall-wasps, honey fungus,

the watch-turning of tree-creepers;

of blights of summer lightning,


of fire damage and that dark

year’s mark worn secretly,

a ring, forged inside a ring;

then the winter’s coronation closing

in a swaying crown of redwings,

cones, drab diagonals of pine-fall,

the lead winds hardening, and while

the stone children wept with rain

the great tree sheltered them.





I was haunted by falsehood from the start, some brink of this reached

by late childhood. To keep lying, to pile it up, was how to live

because fiction tied the parts and parcels of name. Fiction was the poached

life history of travelling folk. Fiction was the electricity and rates.

Paid for your shoes. Fiction took the bus to the store, was allowed

by family law to shoplift. Fiction told the old story every night.

Fiction was poor but dishonest. Fiction gave birth before a grate,

placed my placenta on the sizzling clinkers. Fiction liked comforts.

She had the brains to earn them, but Fiction stayed out late.

Fiction was a virgin before marriage, of course. She laid the hoard

of the tale tall before you. You were bidden to believe in this

despite the fact it was fiction. You had to grow askew. It’s hard

quarrelling with Fiction. Because Fiction is you: your bones

are thin beams of fable; and your blood, when it pouts at your lips

draws through its black alley. Fiction has good fingers, she has sewn

then unstitched the same shroud for years. Fiction longs for reunion

with her lover. He died strong and striking. He swam out of turn

down a long and burning sea of blood. Fiction yearned to restring the yarn

for herself, demanded a better ending. Her children learned their part

and played it from affection. But Fiction began to believe her tale.

                                                                 It collapsed into art

in which Fiction was the lead, and her children chapters and verses.

Her friends would spin about her screaming Author Author

Haunted by so much falsehood, a brink was reached.



from David Morley’s The Invisible Kings   Carcanet Press  www.carcanet.co.uk

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