Enchantmentby David Morley
A blacksmith creates a girl from fire. A hedgehog conquers a kingdom. How do you ride a Camargue horse through time? How do circus people live, when the glitterball has stopped turning? In these poem-stories David Morley reinvents the oral tradition of poetry as a form of magic, marvel and making. Opening with a celebration of friendship, the poems tell the world
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A blacksmith creates a girl from fire. A hedgehog conquers a kingdom. How do you ride a Camargue horse through time? How do circus people live, when the glitterball has stopped turning? In these poem-stories David Morley reinvents the oral tradition of poetry as a form of magic, marvel and making. Opening with a celebration of friendship, the poems tell the world into being. In myths of origin and the natural world, the terrible chronicles of history and the saving power of folk wisdom, the poet weaves spells of Romany and circus language, invents forms and shapes, drawing his readers into a ‘lit circle’ magical and true.
Enchantment concludes a cycle of poems that began with David Morley’s celebrated Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings.
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Read an Excerpt
By David Morley
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2010 David Morley
All rights reserved.
in memory of Nicholas Ferrar Hughes, 1962–2009
Port Meadow, Oxford, 1983
Walking to Woodstock Road from Wytham Wood
where leaf-worlds welled from all the wood's wands,
we talked salmon, midges, floodmeadows, the energy system
cindering softly under us, slow-cooking the marshlands.
The gate ought to be here. The map said so.
That map back at my flat ... Look, there's a spot
somewhere this way where sheep shove through.
See those fieldfares and redwings? They landed last night.
Then a step within a fence nobody bothered with for years
or knew, except the sheep. So Nick stepped up
and through, and there on the other side, two horses
with thrilled-up ears, barged him skilfully to a stop.
I said that gate was around here – pointing a mile or two.
Worth the way – Nick's arms across both horses – to know these two.
This water's steep and deep. There are signs in artery red.
Their letters pump with advice. But it's June and we have trod
ourselves senseless sampling some imaginary species of coleoptera ...
So, there are our cautions slung down like life-vests by the river
and with stone-drop certainty we launch out from a hanging ledge
to collide with a chill so stinging it was like flinging your body
into a bank of nettles. Then head-butting the surface to see
at eyelash-level the whiphands of Common Backswimmers surge
and sprint, each footing a tiny dazzle to prism.
sparking ornaments hovering then islanding on our shoulders
each arching its thorax into a question: what is the blue
that midnights all blue? How can crimson redden before you?
The old map mutters that Here Be Dragons, and it lies.
Here be Darters, Skimmers, drawn flame. Here, are Dragonflies.
The Water Measurer
We could have watched him until our watches rusted on our wrists
or the tarn froze for the year's midnight. The Water Measurer
struck his pose and recalibrated his estimates as if he had misplaced
his notebook, or perhaps his mind, with all that staring at water.
Why does he walk on it with such doubt and mismeasure
when he has the leisure of hydrophobia (those water-fearing hairs
on the undersides of his legs)? Maybe that is his secret,
that he doesn't know his step will never or not quite penetrate
the depth below, glowing with prey and the upturned eyes
of predators. Does he ever get any of this right? Is he unwise?
He tests and counts, counts and tests, in pinprick manoeuvres,
never satisfied with the data of darkness or statistics of sunlight.
It seems he holds his nose at the thought of getting it right, or of not
getting it not right, never or not quite like the water-fly in Hamlet.
Where are we going tonight with our fine-meshed nets
and sampling grabs? Into the rain of all rivers, and the sea
of all weathers. Our jeep does the graft of our feet.
We rev and jerk down the tracks on the back of a planet.
River and banks are an interchangeable blackout. We proceed
by feel so as not to light alarm. We drag the riverbed out,
capsize its stone babies on our sampling tray, then ignite
their whole world in unravelling, incinerating light.
It is night's nursery below stunned stones on the stream's bed
where even the darkness is felt in minuscule spirals
that swirl from the larval mayfly's feelers: a code,
unmade from sand grain and rain and particles
that swerve through this under-space like quiet comets,
each considered and caught or flung on a fresh trajectory.
An angler casting in line with the fish's cast. His wrist halts,
top-locking the reel – a fist freezing over another live fist -
until the water's worn door slaps open on its hasps ...
Salmo salar – those lights that leapt from the solar flare
of a mid-Atlantic lighthouse; that swum – or strummed
to landfall with rumours of petrels – of shearwaters
pashed against the spun sun of that high prism.
To landfall – to riverfall, then waterfall – a slown, sure
skimming stone on ladders of sheered water:
those envoys of an oceanic storm, Salmo salar,
coiling against arcing voltages of an Alaskan river,
springing at their height like bending wands
casting themselves towards its spawning grounds,
plashing gradients until they nose the river's birthing vaults.
Moss Eccles Tarn, Far Sawrey, 1983
I'd backed the van downhill when it should have been uphill
which meant an evening's field trip to observe emerging midges
became a nightlong skin-close study of their feeding habits.
Nick will back me up in this – when we finally get the van to roll
against its natural earthward loll, when the farmer comes by
at five with fodder and the god-like strength of his tractor –
that we'd come up with every practical solution for the insoluble:
flotsam, rocks and clothing between wheels and churning mire;
balances of broken branches acting as a jack, or dry dock;
and then wisdom dawned across the fields just before four
so we dozed an hour, under the radar of owl and nightjar,
under the nose of the mole, shrew and burrowing badger,
in earshot of the fox clattering through bracken at a woodcock
and woke above clouds that had collapsed to the valley's floor.
The Lucy Poem
'Lucy', Australopithecus afarensis, 3.2 million years 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.
our walker wakes; she balances
her thirst against the night's dew,
steadies herself to the climbing
track, unloads her steps 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
glistening in crevices;
the crouched wall
the high snows,
on the birth of Edward Daniel Keenan Morley
The song-thrush slams down gauntlets on its snail-anvil.
The nightjar murmurs in nightmare. The dawn is the chorus.
The bittern blasts the mists wide with a booming foghorn.
The nuthatch nails another hatch shut. The dawn is the chorus.
The merlin bowls a boomerang over bracken then catches it.
The capercaillie uncorks its bottled throat. The dawn is the chorus.
The treecreeper tips the trees upside down to trick out insects.
The sparrow sorts spare parts on a pavement. The dawn is the chorus.
The hoopoe hoops rainbows over the heath and hedgerows.
The wren runs rings through its throat. The dawn is the chorus.
The turnstones do precisely what is asked of them by name.
The wryneck and stonechats also. The dawn is the chorus.
The buzzards mew and mount up on the thermal's thermometer.
The smew slide on shy woodland water. The dawn is the chorus.
The heron hangs its head before hurling down its guillotine.
The tern twists on tines of two sprung wings. The dawn is the chorus.
The eider shreds its pillows, releases snow flurry after snow flurry.
The avocet unclasps its compass-points. The dawn is the chorus.
The swallow unmakes the spring and names the summer.
The swift sleeps only when it's dead. The dawn is the chorus.
The bullfinches feather-fight the birdbath into a bloodbath.
The wagtail wags a wand then vanishes. The dawn is the chorus.
The corncrake zips its comb on its expert fingertip.
The robin blinks at you for breakfast. The dawn is the chorus.
The rook roots into roadkill for the heart and the hardware.
The tawny owl wakes us to our widowhood. The dawn is the chorus.
The dawn is completely composed. The pens of its beaks are dry.
Day will never sound the same, nor night know which song wakes her.
'I could write a cliché about conservation here
but I won't and I won't because I can't.' The gesture
politics of that dead elm is sufficient and your own
reasons for driving above walking and mine for typing
on a laptop under fake light and not a typewriter
under an electric summer noon.
Where does it get us,
this wood, and these winding paths so like the paths
we'd like to make through the woods of our lifetimes
with their borders on the unsure growth but clear
and cleared to make our movements easier, our voices
lower, below the half-lit and otherworldly leaves?
There's a viewpoint in this conversation like the viewpoint
we are standing at overlooking that landfill, the sight at first
as insolent as a chainsaw in the chest of the fells
until you hear about how the fell-side is dug then double-dug
by the great gardeners in their bulldozers.
It is true
that what we waste bends back to grind us. My rubbish
is also here in me, and I shove and shovel it around
every day, sometimes alert to its weight and stench
but most of the time too busy or bored to see or scent
the wealth and ruin of evidence, its blowflies, the extended
families of vermin. Much of that time you won't notice it either
unless you take against me which I'm hoping this conversation
might prevent. As you say, if somebody takes against you
there's no landfill can hide you or me, dig us, double-dig us
into cleansing soil.
So we wonder why we took against
that fell-side, and against
these woods and small rivers; why did we move against
the limestone to scrape it into cinemas and chapels;
kick against the ferns in favour of a few sheep; against
the dale, chain-ganging its stones like they were criminals?
The Ice Age had a knack for natural sculpture: that terminal
moraine and limestone pavement, that scarp and shelf,
those Scars and tarns – these were artistic successes, won
no awards; we bulldozed them like tower-blocks.
We are not
mistakes on this planet which is why I could write a cliché
about conservation here but I won't. Maybe you and I
who have never met are caught in no choice, separate strands
of sheep wool snared on a wire fence, blown and soaked,
sunned until we rot, unable to see or hear each other
but sensing the iron thorn angled through our spines.
I want to say, talk to me across these winds.
We are dying out here together. There is more we could do
if we would curve to each other, to attend as Ruskin did
to Malham Cove when the stones of the brook were softer
with moss than any silken pillow; the crowded oxalis leaves
yielded to the pressure of the hand, and were not felt;
the cloven leaves of the Herb Robert and robed clusters
of its companion overflowed every rent in the rude crags
with living balm; there was scarcely a place left
by the tenderness of happy things where one might not
lay down one's forehead on their warm softness and sleep.
Ellar Carr Hill, walking between Strid Wood and Embsay
Abandoned Christmas Tree Plantation
We are waiting for a Christmas that never came,
each species a friend of a friend of some needle-hue.
All the years, heights and postures are present
like children in a school that no child ever leaves.
Each species a friend of a friend of some needle-hue:
those adolescent spruces prickle with boredom
like children in a school that no child ever leaves.
The infant firs sing to themselves in the snow.
The prefect pines, sky-high, peer down unmoved.
Those adolescent spruces prickle with boredom;
the infant firs sing to themselves in the snow.
We speak through the wind and only then in murmurs;
stretch our limbs into the wind to catch at birds.
The prefect pines, sky-high, peer down unmoved
bartering a bullfinch song for a goldfinch chime.
We speak through the wind and only then in murmurs.
By dusk we are whispers and secret playtime rhymes.
We stretch our limbs into the wind and catch at birds.
Our tree rings are school bells that peal in December
bartering a bullfinch song for a goldfinch chime.
By dusk we are whispers and secret playtime rhymes.
All the years, heights and postures are present.
Our tree rings are school bells that peal for December.
We are waiting for a Christmas that will never come.
So out stepped this young man – half hedgehog and half human being. And the king stood and looked: he'd never seen a creature like this in all his days.
He said, 'What type of being are you that could do all this? Have you anyone to help you?'
'No', said the hedgehurst, 'I need help from no-one.'
'You mean to tell me', says the king, 'that you built this place by yourself and you cut all these trees, built all these things and made this place like this?' It was the most beautiful place the king had ever seen.
'I have', said the hedgehurst, 'I've done all this myself. But anyway, getting back to you: what is it you want of me, for I am king of this and this is my kingdom.'
'I want nothing from you', says the king. 'But I am amazed! Tell me, what are you?'
He said, 'I am a hedgehurst.'
Duncan Williamson, Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children
I am Hedgehurst. I, snow-
slumbering, the loaf of my body
ovened in a bole beneath
a flame-leafed sycamore,
uncurl from my coiled hole.
Whose is this scorned skin?
What weather rouses me
to lag my limbs with lichen,
to fold fresh thatch around me?
I roll, I loll in fallen leaves.
They melt me asleep; I
blunder through dream,
weaving that way then this,
from Februaries of thawing
to nodding November.
My mind measures out claw points,
paw prints but snarls me into a ball.
A jury of jays jabs me, scolds me.
Why are you dozing here? they jabber.
What, what is, what is your story?
Born blunt, born blind, I pawed
the mist of my mother,
sensed her shawl around
me like leaf-dry shelter.
Her love, a raw rend across
her womb; she wore my birth
along her thighs in rips, in wounds.
Childless, she had chided
my father in tears, in years,
until overheard by a wider world –
in the sleight of a stranger who
held a hedgehog on her palm,
who smiled her spell through
their walls. Worlds were unspun.
I nosed through that cottage
for six years, eye-high to its locks.
Outside, my father's axe lit
lightning from the oak's flint barks.
When I found my feet
I floundered forwards on all fours.
My father flared and fumed as
I fumbled with gravities.
I lapped spilled milk while he
watched me, as wary as a hare.
My bed was strewn stale straw.
I lay still on my spines'
springs, napping on my nails.
My father's weasel whine
seeped and stole through
my rough wall each drab night.
My mother's muteness was enough
to shut me into some bright
burial ground of myself, to grind
her halved child into ground.
I was space between an axe-edge
and the oak's white wound.
I was seven in nothing but age
when I left home with no word.
I wound my way through the walls
of their world and into this wood.
The tines of my pelt, draggling,
made me stronger as I went;
and, when I made camp,
found myself no stranger
to that wood's world. I called
my name into the night. The trees
shushed me, then answered
with caterpillars baited on threads.
I called again. Moths moored
in bark-fissures flickered out,
fluttered towards me as I spoke
as though my voice were alight.
Pipistrelles unfurled through firs.
Fireflies bloomed and doused.
I called until dawn into the next
dawn. I spun and unspun their names
with my name. When I had worlded
the woods with these creatures
I lounged on my spines.
I then called out the birds.
Clamorous as alphabets in a cloud,
starlings strew down. They settled
like a harvest in the highest
trees and sang, drizzling.
Then came magicians, green
woodpeckers, the greenest men.
They were circling laughter. They
were soft rolls on the oak's drum.
Ceremonially stabbing his prey
on haw, sloe, dog rose,
a shrike shrieked down to feast,
his larder stiff on thorns.
Woodpigeons unwarped their wings,
clapping through larch canopies.
Wrens buzzed from bushes. Tree-
creepers moused down yew-
towers. Rolled bodily from a nest
a solitary cuckoo came
closer than comfort, bearing
her unchilding charm.
Arcing down the air's stair silently,
those emblems – snowy owls
bowed whitely then blinked.
In the brimming underworld below
their bowing branches, ptarmigans
moved, still smooth with snow.
I kept my call up – the starlings
now imitating – so I swerved it,
narrowed it, arrowed my voice
down the bolt-holes of hedgerows,
calling up the fields and the further
afields of floodplain, lake, river.
A tarn's surface flickered with the ore
of rudd, orfe and roach.
Dace, carp, and loach spun
on their rudders to the fly of my call.
I viewed the arc of my kingdom:
a rainbow righting itself above water,
its likeness mirrored and ringed
under and above the surface of all things.
I latticed hedges in high tension
about the wood's borders,
their branches barred, all twigs
cats-cradled. No low doors for badgers.
No runnels for runaways. Even roots
rammed deeper. Those windows
between leaf and leaf I made
shatter-proof with web and web, spiders
garrisoning them like a million eyes
in a wall. For twenty years I had peace
when a door unlatched where no door
was, its hasps hidden in a space
of a second guess. Striding in circles
of his own dream, a hunting king
came upon my clearing while I crafted;
needling me for directions, marvelling
at my work. I needed help from no one,
so returned that king to his kind,
he, gifting his word that the first thing he saw
within the world elsewhere would be mine.
I had kenned from my wrens
how to cave-mine my call,
to speak through soil, make
speech slither through a hill,
and I learned from my bats
and owls how to hear it all back,
the echo resounding slow
in the swirl and swoon of a beck,
given tongue as it trickles from
rock-pool to spill murmurs
along a lake-bed, passed through
caddis fly to bloodworm to fish
before the catch is ospreyed
up from the water and sprayed
back through the nets in my ear.
In this way I overheard
the worlds outside my wood:
how the king had come home,
how his daughter, his dearest child,
had been the first to greet him.
But no word reached me. I let
the seasons sing themselves slow.
I let the winds wind through
on their migrations. I lay
my ear to the lake and listened.
Silence and then ice. Jays
mocked me to life in March.
I rose and called twice
for what it would take –
I called all my creatures.
I could make war with water,
by damming ducts, flash-floods,
by underwhelming wells but I
could not take a field with fish.
I had noise enough to light out
for territory – snipe's throb, woodpecker's
drum, stork's clack, heron's bill-clap,
and at dawn, the lapwing's thrum.
The birds went before me, and my army,
the earth's creatures, they followed me.
Fat rain soaks an unwringable soil.
The sun's hand fumbles at a rag
of earth. It can do nothing with it
but shape steam or ice. The slog
of roots as they ply through rock,
murk, moisture – this was my work
that half-day. When rain runs
over rain, when deep roots are delved,
high banks breached, the araucaria's
canopy's reefed, leaf-land on a lake,
drench-drowned, its green throat
gasping; so it was when we
showed up at that king's fences
and forts; he, done over in a
heartbeat, his whole kingdom
drowned by hoof-beats, antlers
clattering in his pallid palace;
and his people, his, peering
from their portholes, from
prison ships of their tenements.
Leaves allow answers to a season:
when to give way, when to hold
hard. I had these humans
in the hands of my branches.
I held them up to the spring:
showed them the month's doors
opening on each other, those
rain-crafted courtyards of a year;
offered them the openings
of a fern, the currencies
of those smote-eyed seeds;
gave them the conditions
written in grass-blades
as a wind wicks through them;
read softly the rules
of the rain as it retreated
to its ravines and rivers;
and when this was done
the king's daughter came to me
without question or ambition.
In the broken and in the woken
dreams of the king's people
I moved to teach the tongues
torn from them: my creatures' calls.
In the palace hall, the court spoke
at me on their stilts of speech;
I scythed those sticks: tottering
tongues stammered and spilled.
In the city I was the space
between a shrike's spike and prey.
I was a holly bush among them.
Carnivalled in star-lit nails
I nightwalked the city. Will
to will, my wife met me,
while the silk king sulked.
For its wands of low light
to wane through the windows
to douse my blood, to slow me,
to slow me so and so clench me
that coward king waited on winter.
My beasts were busy unweaving
and reweaving the city: wood wasps
worked the wrecked timbers
of the tenements, ravens
refreshed the roofs. Snipe,
scaup and scoter settled
at reservoirs, sweetened inrunning
rivers, drilled then dredged
the silts and sands. Crossbills
and finches fossicked field-seed;
horses hauled those harvests home.
I foddered my creatures by starlight
steeling my skin against the moon's
zero. My hearth held some secrecy
of spring: to win through winter
I would need that fire's hand.
Each night I knelt nearer its blaze.
I strained with my spines. I stripped
myself clear of my cladding, then
made my way numb beneath the moon.
Three nights with my nerves
on knives; three nights clad
in the cold's clay; my hearth,
pelt and wife waiting for me at dawn.
I was almost blunt and blind,
my mother's mist rising
as I yanked fodder to the stalls
calling creature to creature.
On the third midnight I plucked
then placed my pelt. My wife
watched from our bed then
waving once, wondered to sleep.
I staggered through a sheer snow
of stars. I made everyone safe.
I smelled before I saw my broad
skin broiling where the king
had stoked it high on a bonfire.
And then the king came to me,
soldiers before him, bright buckets
jagged and acid with ice-water.
The water's wile, the wound of it,
it winded my mind; its ice spermed
through my veins, hatched in my heart.
Breath blew from me and I fell
into a glacier of my blood. I saw
the king handed my father's axe;
my wife running from her room,
out from dream; and then
his daughter flying at him, bearing
down on a boar, her white
wrists writhing. All this. I saw all this
before a wind flew back through me
and I whispered my wife's name.
The stars shushed me, then
answered me with caterpillars
baited on threads. I called her again.
Moths stirred in bark-fissures.
They flickered out, fluttered
towards us as I spoke her name,
as though my voice were a light.
Ramsons whiten into life, slow-
slumbering through the thaw.
After spring showers, my halved
children will tread paths sprung
and sewn from their scent alone.
I wake half-dreaming. For seconds
I do not know myself. What hands
are these that are lacerable
but sprung with spines?
What weather rouses me,
unclenches my limbs from frost?
Where is my second skin?
It is winter gone. It is worlds unspun.
I judder awake as jays bounce
and strut about my body.
I rise, I shout, and they scatter.
They jump screaming into the sky.
It is time to call everything to life
for I am king of this and this is my kingdom.
Who am I? I am Hedgehurst.
Excerpted from Enchantment by David Morley. Copyright © 2010 David Morley. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
David Morley is an ecologist and naturalist by background. His poetry has won fourteen writing awards and prizes, including the Templar Poetry Prize, the Poetry Business Competition, an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award, an Eric Gregory Award, the Raymond Williams Prize and a Hawthornden Fellowship. His 2007 collection The Invisible Kings (Carcanet) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He is also known for his pioneering ecological poetry installations within natural landscapes and for the creation of ‘slow poetry’ sculptures and I-Cast poetry films. His ‘writing challenges’ podcasts are among the most popular literature downloads on iTunes worldwide: two episodes are now preloaded on to all demo Macs used in Apple Stores around the world. He has performed his poems and stories at many of the major literary festivals. He writes essays, criticism and reviews for the Guardian and Poetry Review. A leading international advocate of creative writing, he wrote The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and is co-editor with the Australian poet Philip Neilsen of The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. He currently teaches at the University of Warwick.
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