Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Category: whatever

The ghost-caller

The last of my old offerings for the season of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, of bauchles and bogies and long-toothed flesh-feasties, and shadows that torment your sight. Go do Halloween, but have a care for your immortal souls…

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The ghost-caller

Where once the sunlight filtered through a curtain
The woman sits, abandoned and alone;
See how such solitude is iron-certain
In deeper-darkness, and how late it’s grown.

But wait a while – though many tears are falling
And though the lonely, moonlit hours are long –
To shifting shades the woman’s voice is calling,
And ghosts and demons hear the drifting song.

These spectres are the woman’s own creations
That crawl into penumbras, opportune
And evening-timely come these apparitions,
As heat’s a trusted herald of monsoon!

But will these things of darkness leave at morning,
Or will they haunt the woman through the day?
That’s not for us to know – so heed my warning,
And from this place of sadness… come away!

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__________

In the Echo-hall of Randomstone

Woe to you who venture too near to my old, old, Gothic verses as Halloweentide nights draw in…

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In the Echo-hall of Randomstone

I trod a wild and sunless mountain path,
for many leagues and many days, alone.
It led by rowan grove and elvish rath,
up to the echo-hall of Randomstone.
Within a silent, lofty-ceilinged room,
there stood an altar of obsidian,
on which I placed things stolen from a tomb
where lay an eon-dead Dravidian.
I summoned, from the arsenal of my faith,
such strength as I could muster in the night;
but more than that – I summoned up a wraith
that answered to my esoteric rite.
Such was her might that she took shape, whilst I
forever in this fetid vault must lie!

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Old stones that lead from heaven to the sea

From the dimly lit chamber emerges the ghost of lost love – another of my old Gothic treats – as Halloween lurks behind the graveyard wall…

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Old stones that lead from heaven to the sea –

the steps which are well-worn by bitter tears

that fall upon their grey severity,

and weathered by the winds of countless years –

they are the causeway linking love and death;

thus only stricken lovers’ solemn tread

upon this stairway sounds above the breath

of God. But still I walk in silent dread,

and downwards, downwards to the ocean cold,

yet for a reason that I long forgot,

I go; still from the roses that I hold

fall petals. Ah, she loves me… loves me not…

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The crystal ball

The plunge towards Halloween, no matter how our fingernails scrabble at the granite walls as we slide, is inexorable. So here is another gothic offering from 2006, the year I scaled the Mountains of My Madness. This one was inspired by a painting by J.W. Waterhouse…

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             The crystal ball

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Where has the seeress lost herself?
In what relentless seas
Sails she, with helmsman sprite or elf,
To seek elusive ease?

What worlds are cupped within her hands?
And where her steady gaze
Falls, are there rich, exotic lands
In sunlit ancient days?

Her lips that seem to wish a kiss,
Her beauty gowned in red –
Is all her being wrapt in bliss,
Or does she see the dead?

Lo, there! Her grimoire and her wand –
Behind, a grinning skull –
Are spirits summoned to respond,
Or are her senses dull?

What knowledge, what enlightenment
Seeks she in realms arcane?
Beware, my sweet! All’s transient,
Your loveliness will wane!

Whatever is the magic lore
Whose secrets now entice
You through a dark and one-way door –
You pay too high a price!

So lady, lay that art aside,
Forswear your mantic ball
For mind’s health, beauty’s morningtide –
Or, hazarding, lose all!

O Darkness, be my friend

Another poem from my old gothic collection, disinterred for the approach of Halloween. These poems have been greying in my family crypt, behind the rusting, wrought-iron gate that hangs off its hinges but opens just wide enough for a fearless – or reckless – adventurer to squeeze through, down the dark steps lit only by a faint phosphorescence, inside an ancient sarcophagus in which there appears to be nothing else but dust. If you want to snatch the manuscript, be quick! There are rustlings in the darkness, and the echo of what might be eldritch laughter…

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O Darkness, be my friend

O Darkness, be my friend;
come, sheath my searing shame
in shadows. Comprehend
the scarlet of my name,
the flames of which transcend
the tinsel-gold of fame!

O Darkness, take my sight;
with cold penumbras bind
these brimming eyes, contrite
in error, hard-maligned
in judgment. Take them – blight
their seeing, make me blind!

O Darkness, unto death
walk with me; with thy wand
strike dumb my Shibboleth –
my tongue dare not respond!
Be this my final breath;
who knows what lies beyond!

 

The Marseilles Diligence

In the run-up to Halloween, I thought I would dig out some of my gothic poetry from years ago, just to chill your blood. Beware the ghostly march of brides…

 

The Autumn 2019 Showcase at ‘the zen space’

Yes, it has been a long time, folks, but then I’m still enjoying a sabbatical, still sorting this old head out.

I’m not totally inactive, however. I continue to pen the occasional weird poem, and of course to edit the zen space. Speaking of which, the Autumn 2019 Showcase is now published there. Visit, please.

MM.

Vera Rich meets Taras Shevchenko at the Kievo-Percherska Lavra

I recently heard from poet Bob Newman, on his return from a trip to the Ukraine. He had been among the delegates to a commemoration of the late Vera Rich, held on the tenth anniversary of her death. This included a poetry-reading at the Ivan Franko University in Lviv. Bob told me that included in that reading was my poem with the above title, which had been published originally in issue 50 of Manifold, the poetry magazine Vera had founded, and which she had edited for many years before her death. I wrote it as a tribute to her.

As I have reported before, I got to know Vera Rich late in her life. We corresponded by email and on poetry forums. I always took her critiques of my poetry on the chin – she was very forthright – and I knew that if she praised something it must therefore be very good. Occasionally we had fun – just see our exchange of ‘Mongolian’ limericks.

Just before she died, Vera engaged me to read through her translation of the Ukrainian epic The Death of Cain by Ivan Franko. Unfortunately we never completed the work on that poem.

Anyway, here is the sonnet I wrote to Vera ten years ago. It describes her joyful arrival in heaven.

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Vera Rich meets Taras Shevchenko at the Kievo-Percherska Lavra

Hey – Taras! Is that really you, old friend?
Then that was not the Dnepr I just crossed
But Jordan. This is every journey’s end –
The halls of Paradise – and I’m not lost.

They say the Lavra’s gates remit all sins,
So I have walked through three times, to be safe,
And now discover here my rest begins,
My limbs are strong, my shoes no longer chafe.

Good Lord – this air is clear! Elysium
Reminds me of Ukraine and Belarus;
So this is what they mean by “Kingdom Come” –
But Taras, what will now be asked of us?

Eternal worship? Ah – in adoration –
The seraphs’ hymns deserve a good translation!

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Vera Rich 2005

Pinning the tail on sunlight

Nice things people have said to me so far in 2019:

“You’re too brilliant to pin down, Marie. Like trying to pin the tail on the sunlight.”

“In my version of you, more like trying to pin the blame on an exploding supernova.”

“… arrogant bint!”

The third one there was said affectionately, I can assure you.

Not so much a revival, more a recycle:

In 2010 I opened a new website for my Lithopoesis project. I have played around on the edges of experimental poetry more-or-less ever since my stint of writing sonnets came to a close (“I’ve learned how to draw,” I said, “and now I’m entitled to pickle a shark and call it ‘art’.”), and it is now almost a decade since that particular period of work. The last post I made there, adding a forgotten piece of work, rather than constructing something new, was in 2012.

impact 01bNow, however, I have decided to add another page there, to house the dribs and drabs of what I call ‘Impact Art’. Now, you know me – I don’t like to explain what I’m doing. You read my poetry and my prose, as is, and you make what you can of them. I feel, more often than not, that explanation is a destructive process. You, on the other hand, take over the matter of creation as soon as you see something of mine, as soon as you look at it, give it attention, relate to it, react to it, interpret it. Let that interpretation run to a scholarly thesis if you wish, go nuts, it’s fine by me.

So go and have a look at my ‘Impact Art’. Clicking the image to the right of this post will take you to its threshold; or you can simply click on the ‘Impact Art’ tab at the top of the page, over on the Lithopoesis site. Follow the blog there – I’ll post an update in the blog section whenever I add something new.

Am I still writing poetry?

Yes, over at Kvenna ráð I am. I’m resting my ‘Two hundred and seven words’ prose-poetry at the moment, and dropping an occasional haikuform poem, but yes I’m still dabbling. Go there, follow that too.

Thank you.

M.

 

The water of life *

There is a building in our burgh that once was – several generations ago, after it had been a cottage and before it became a warehouse for garments and then a dance studio – a chapel of sorts. Its small congregation was looked down upon by the Kirk, by the Baptists, by the Romans, and by the Episcopalians, and its pastor or preacher, John Michie, was a byword in the town. He was an incomer, along with his family and a couple of members of the congregation, from Clackmannan, and his church was of no noted denomination, save that some said it had been set off from the Sandemanians. One thing was certain, however, was that John Michie was a man who preached sin, and its consequences in eternal fire.

He was dead against strong drink, and preached every Wednesday and Saturday in the street, handing out tracts about the dangers of alcohol, of how it polluted a man’s soul and body, and how pure water was enough for man’s thirst. It was mainly this that made him a byword. He said it himself. “But he has made me a byword of the people, and I have become one in whose face men spit, Job chapter seventeen, verse six. I am now their taunting song and their byword, same book, chapter thirty, verse nine,” he declared. Small wonder, it could be said, because his Saturday preaching was done outside the Johnstone Arms, and his Wednesday at the gates of the distillery. Taunts he endured, sometimes he was pushed and shoved, an occasional stone was sent flying his way. Once a pebble struck him high on the cheekbone, just under his left eye – he never flinched, and his bearing of the wound seemed to make him stand straighter. For all their detestation of him, people said grudgingly that he had the courage of his convictions.

One Wednesday, having had enough of the disruption caused by Michie’s regular visits, the General Manager of the distillery, a Kirk man, came down in person to the gates and harangued him. The precise words of the exchange are not recorded, but the parting shot of Campbell, the Manager, as he ground on his heel and stalked back to his office, was to the effect that Michie was a fool; Michie, to his back, shouted, “Matthew, chapter five, verse twenty-two!”

Campbell had some influence in the Kirk of Scotland, and it was little surprise that on the following Sunday the Minister there preached about the Marriage at Cana, and how Christ’s first miracle was to turn water into wine, about how this prefigured the coming of the New Covenant and the ending of the Old, in which the injunction had been “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup” according to the Book of Proverbs. Moreover, said the Minister, the Apostle Paul had told Timothy, his fellow-disciple, to take a little wine for the good of his stomach. When he heard of this, John Michie said very little, except he made a remark about people who confused fermentation with distillation.

People thought that perhaps he had been silenced by one better versed than he. However, next Saturday he appeared as usual at the Johnstone Arms. Only this time he did not preach outside. He pushed open the door and walked in. He walked right up to the counter and, in a room that had fallen silent, addressed the landlord.

“I believe you sell whiskey here, is that not so?”

The landlord placed his fists on the counter and leaned forward.

“I do, John Michie,” he said, “and it is my business if I do, and none of yours!”

“Landlord, I wish to buy some.”

If it were possible for a quiet room to become even quieter, then the bar of the Johnstone Arms did. For a second or two, the landlord, stunned, did not move. Then he reached for a glass.

“No,” said Michie, “I wish to buy more than that.”

The landlord raised his eyebrows and reached for a bottle.

“Landlord, please do not waste my time. Sell me a case. I presume you have one in your cellar? Yes? Then sell me a case of whiskey!”

Every denizen of the pub watched this drama unfold, disbelief on their faces. The landlord went down to the cellar and brought up a case of whiskey. Michie paid for it, hefted it onto his right shoulder, and walked outside. Several – most – of the drinkers followed him, watching as he marched up the road that led to the sharp glen cut into the Ochil Hills, at the foot of which our burgh stands. Some then walked after him, others went into the burgh, to passersby in the street and to customers in the shops, saying “John Michie has bought a case of whiskey, and he’s away up the glen with it!” Soon there was a long straggling line of townsfolk following behind the preacher.

John Michie wasn’t a big man, but he was wiry and tough, and even with the burden of the case of whiskey his pace up the steep glen was hard to match. The path, laid alongside the pipeline that carried the burgh’s water supply from the burn, was narrow, and the drop to the torrent below often sheer. As a result, the preacher kept ahead of the following crowd. When they eventually caught up to him, after a forced march of about an hour, he had stepped onto a rock in the middle of the burn, just below an artificial weir, and just above where an intake had been built to divert some of the water into the pipe. There he sat, the case open, and a whiskey bottle in his hand. The gathering crowd watched as he unscrewed the cap of the bottle.

He poured the contents into the burn.

“That’s a waste of good whiskey!” said one of the younger men in the crowd, and made as if to loup onto the rock himself. But Michie took up another bottle with a reverse grip, testing it as one might test the weight of a handy weapon.

“A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength, Proverbs chapter twenty-four, verse five,” he said, and the young man decided not to intervene after all. In fact every single one of the preacher’s pursuers, come in ones and twos to that place where the hand of man first interferes with the wildness of the burn that runs through the steep-sided glen, simply stood and watched as he emptied the contents of bottle after bottle into the water.

Eventually the crowd was joined by Sergeant Turnbull. Or rather they made way for his slow approach; Turnbull being a man of some girth, and what is more another incomer, from Lothian, his stripes and his exoticism gave him a cachet in their eyes, and so they showed him a good deal of deference.

“John Michie,” he said, “Can ye no see what it says on yon notice?”

water supply for MarieThe preacher looked across to where the policeman was pointing – a sign stating that anyone found polluting the water supply would be prosecuted – and nodded. “I see it fine,” he said, emptying the last whiskey bottle.

“I shall have to arrest you, then.”

“Aye, I think so.”

Packing the empty bottles back into the case, and hefting them once again onto his right shoulder, the preacher followed the Sergeant on a stately progress back down the glen. The others stood back to let them pass. In answer to the occasional quizzical glance, the Sergeant jerked his thumb at the case and said, “Evidence.”

Two days later John Michie stood before the Procurator Fiscal at Alloa Sheriff Court. When asked how he pled to the charge of emptying bottles of whiskey into the water supply of the Burgh of Alva, he said only, “Guilty.” The Procurator Fiscal had been minded to fine the preacher twenty-five pounds, but because of his plea and his obvious subjection “unto the higher powers” as scripture has it, the fine was reduced to seventeen pounds and ten shillings.

If anyone thought this was the end of the extraordinary episode they were wrong. On the day after his appearance in court, John Michie caused a handbill to be circulated widely in the burgh – pinned to posts, handed out to all and sundry by members of his little congregation. The headline on it ran thus:

“THE LAW DECLARES WHISKEY TO BE A POLLUTANT.”

The text below was an honest account of the preacher’s actions, his deliberately disobeying the precise words of the sign, his subsequent appearance at the Sheriff Court, and his guilty plea. And of course no one would gainsay the headline, because it was literally true. It is not recorded whether this actually altered anyone’s drinking habits, but the story is always retold with a smile, and a note that no one ever called John Michie a fool after that. For a while his little congregation was even a person or two larger, and it is said that, with a twinkle in his eye, he preached less about hell fire and more about baptism, and about the pure water of life.

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*I was sent the photograph which accompanies this story, with the suggestion that I could probably find a story in it.