Mistress Blacklock

detail from Saint Peter in front of his eponymous basilica in the Vatican, sculpted by Adamo Tadolini

Mistress Blacklock

Throughout the gothic city-states,
Secure with many doors and gates,
The greatest craftsmen in the land
Were those who crafted locks –
Protecting life and property
Behind the password of a key –
And yet, with just a twist of hand
It frees our hearths and stocks.

Thus, whereupon the plague is rife,
The locals dread their very life,
And conjured up a chatelaine
To rattle in the night –
A mistress dark and grimly tall
With sturdy boots and sweeping shawl,
And ring-bound keys upon a chain
To lock the dead up tight.

Never in a hurry, she,
Yet striding on determinedly –
She visits those who’s fever runs
As fast as runs their sands.
No lock can bar her solemn deeds,
For she has just the key she needs
To reach all lovers, reach all sons –
Where’er the fever lands.

The doors unlock, and slowly swing
Upon the rogue and saint and king,
And in she stalks with silent ease,
And stoppable by none.
She takes the ring about her waist
And cycles, never in a haste,
Through all her heavy iron keys
To find the very one.

And that she lifts and points toward
Her victim, all the rest ignored
And presses to his chest her shaft
That bloodless passes through.
The fingers of her left discern
The bow upon the shank, and turn
As smoothly as the masters’ craft
Their workings, firm and true.

Her right she offers to he held
By him, that fear may be dispelled –
They say her bony, steady hands
Are warmer than you’d think.
And so his latches spring apart
To free his soul and stop his heart –
Her key withdraws from out his glands
With just the faintest clink.

And with that, speaking not a word,
And with no other neighbour stirred,
The plague has been about its chores
With not a jam or jolt.
As through the busy, ailing towns
She goes about her nightly rounds,
Of dousing lights and shutting doors
And drawing home the bolts.

Lonely Cross

Lonely Cross

Does the Devil lurk at crossroads ?
Doesn’t he have some place to go ?
It’s a waypoint, not a terminus.
But strum a guitar to the croaking toads
And see if the Highway Lord will show –
Or, failing that, the midnight bus.

Isn’t this where mediaeval priests
Would bury the suicidal souls ?
Is that why Satan’s such a fan ?
But no undeads tonight, at least,
Just jamming with the bats and moles,
With not a trace of a bogeyman.

Of all the places to meet with fate,
A junction seems a strange address –
It sounds like the Devil’s lost his way.
Whatever, the hour is getting late,
With only the hedgehogs to impress –
Time, perhaps, to call it a day.

These roads are just two country lanes,
That even in daylight are pretty stark –
The Devil has better things to do.
Now, which way did I come, again ?
All these paths look the same in the dark –
Where’s the signpost ?  Not a clue…

For Man was Made in the Image of God

     For Man was Made in the Image of God

Old Zeus loved to dress as a bull,
While Loki dragged-up as a mare –
Pan would never be short of wool,
And Bast had a head for feline flair.

Such tales from the priests and wassailers,
Of shape-shifting changers
Who scared dairymaids –
For the Devil had all the best tailors,
And demons were angels
Who loved masquerades.

It used to be said that only the gods
(And arthropods)
Could metamorphosise –
But humans watched, and wanted-in,
To shed their skin
For a cunning disguise.

And so came Hollywood,
Wigs and prosthetics,
And cosmetics enough to make Jezebel blush.
Till even the fay never had it so good,
And the witches spurned wands for our pencil and brush.

So we’re gloriously gothic and archly absurd,
We’re casting a glamour
To stammer the Word.
And whether we’re devil or psycho or clown,
We raise-up the dead for a night on the town.

And the gods all smile at how far we’ve run,
As they don a new style to join in the fun.

For all they may claim that religious festivals of the dead are deeply serious and purely about honouring souls and lost relatives, or about warding-off dangerous evil spirits, never underestimate the subconscious human desire to dress-up and have a party.

Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Model of Dunkleosteus terrelli, photographed by James St. John. I have been unable to uncover who made the model.

Sleeping with the Armoured Fishes

Ah lads, I love me a lonely building site,
But best be down to business – bring the rat.
It really is a calm if moonless night
And I’m in quite the mood to have a chat.
Yes, bring him here, and keep him gagged and bound.
So, let’s have a look at you – nothing to say ?
Ironic, given how you like to expound –
But then, I’m not the cops, and I don’t pay.
So pray, indulge me with a heart-to-heart.
You’re what, mid-twenties ?  Younger than I thought.
Are you a college boy ?  You think you’re smart ?
But not so brainy now that you’ve been caught.
Same age as my boy, infact, and just as raw.
When he went off to uni, I said “Son,
I don’t want you to study business or the law,
Don’t want you to follow in my footsteps none.
Go and find yourself in girls and books
And study something useless, something fun.”
“Alright dad,” he said, “goodbye to crooks,
And here’s to looking after number one.
And I know just the course for me –
It’s palaeontology !
Digging up the bones like any average Jones.”

So off he went to college with his hammer
Seeking out the placoderm and ammonite,
To live that student life in all its glamour –
Pasta, parties, politics and cram-all-night.
And now he even works for a museum,
Cataloguing shells and dating rocks –
He calls the place a fossil mausoleum,
Worshipping the dead, then seal them in a box.
But then one day, he’s telling me how rare
A fossil even is to ever find
When so much of the past ain’t even there,
We’re lucky that there’s any left behind.
And if we died, wiped out, in plague or war –
Well, when the dolphins rises, or super-ants,
In sixty-five-odd million years or more,
How would they know that we were smarty-pants ?
Now I know what you’re thinking of, young man,
Cos so was I, I thought I’d name that tune –
So don’t interrupt, (not that you can) –
But so I says “There’s footprints on the Moon !”
“Perhaps” he says, “but even these
Face meteorites and solar breeze,
And the Voyagers ? Okay, but so very far away.”

Steel structures ?  Not a chance, he said –
Rusted, melted, eaten, and the trail is cold.
The same with plastic, silicon, or lead –
The only stable currency is gold.
But not out here, where wind and rain can bite,
And bring the highest mountains down to sand –
But locked up in the Earth, well out of sight,
With pottery and diamonds shaped by hand.
And as for bones, we do ourselves no favours,
By burying just six-feet deep in loam,
And never mind cremation !  But our saviours
Are those who drowned a mile beneath the foam –
Sunk in shifting silt with little oxygen, ahoy !
Or in summat tough and clearly fake and littered by the score –
And here’s where we finally come to you, old boy –
It’s concrete !  Especially with rebar through its core.
And when it’s in the pilings of a bridge,
Then it’s already buried, safe as houses !
Okay lads, over here a smidge…and down he goes…
A rat, I suppose, to join the future mighty mouses.
I hope he makes it big some day –
How fitting for his feet of clay
To join a concrete shroud – my son would be so proud !

The Root of All Evil

wood street plane
Photo of the London plane tree in Wood Street in the Square Mile (taken by Katie Wignall ?)

The Root of All Evil

“Since it was first hybridised in the 1660s, the London Plane has slowly taken over the world.”
                                                                           – The Manchester Gardener
Hybrid sap, mosaic bark,
Twisted bloom and swollen seed,
Bright amid the sooty dark,
This gnarlèd gothic breed.
He sprouts so slyly, this plant in the greenery –
One of the forest and part of the scenery –
No felling him, this mimic of maple, primordial cousin:
Hack off a limb, and this pollarding hydra will shoot out a dozen.

Spawned in the blooms of his immigrant parents,
A cuckoo inherent, a mongrel ill-born.
Wrought in the heart of Enlightenment steam,
From a fever-soaked dream on a dew-sodden morn.
With roots in the clay and his head in Orion,
A vigorous scion, a devil-blest spawn,
A chance aberration, a found’ry mutation,
With lacewood of iron and baubles of thorn.

Invading our cities while shedding his skin,
This cryptic chimera has crept his way in.
And none of his caste have succumbed to senescence, as yet…
Elixir of ever-youth pumps his capillary,
Sweeter than gin from an alley distillery,
Alchemised out of pea-soupers and coal-dust and sweat.
As if he were built out of ratchets and springs,
His ethic for work will be written in rings –
He’s still in his galvanised prime, through the dry-times and wet.

What hath we wrought ?, and what hath we mined ?,
That ought to lie buried or trampled behind –
But workshops of soil are shooting out hordes of his kind.
And what if we find that he just keeps on growing ?,
And fruiting and sowing, till all is entwined ?
Hammered and forged in the mill and pipette –
Who knows how engorged this goliath may get ?

It is uncertain if the first accidental hybrid occured in Spain or in Vauxhall Gardens in London (well, technically in Surrey, but close enough). Interestingly, for all the streets lined with them, I don’t think there are any woods with them growing wild. Infact, it would be fascinating to deliberately plant a patch of wasteland with nothing but London Planes and see how well they self-seed. Yes, I realise that they’re not strictly British natives, but then they’re really native to nowhere.

So Says Sam Hain

The Storyteller by ‘Dutch School’

So Says Sam Hain

Mischief Night, and the Devil is abroad –
He could be here.
For on this night, be you tenant or lord,
There’s something near.
Be it a ghost, or the ghost of a thought,
The underworld or the over-wrought,
It may be all, or it may be naught –
It’s getting dark, my dear.

Mischief Night, and the Devil is amock –
He could be nigh.
For on this night, as our worries flock,
His jinks run high.
A will-o’-the-wisp, or a whisp’ring breeze,
A chill in the air, or a banshee’s sneeze ?
A frost tonight or a deathly freeze ?
It’s getting cold – oh my…

Mischief Night, and the Devil is alive –
He could be me.
For on this night, the shenanigans thrive,
And fools run free.
Is that a ghoul, or a turnip’s head ?
A friendly fright, or the living dead ?
And the Devil just smiles and goes to bed –
It’s getting late, you see.

Drothful Lucubration

The Astronomer by Candlelight by Gerrit Dou

Drothful Lucubration

A dark and stormy night, this night,
Yet ‘tween the clouds the full moon bright
Looks down upon me as I write
These dark and stormy lines.
But hark !  A distant howling queer
I fancy I mayhap may hear
From out the corner of my ear
And through my very spine –
And though my heart may drown it out,
I cannot labour long in doubt,
For surely do I know that sound without,
As it knows me.
The gusting wind brings to my door
A growling low from off the moor
That chills my very being o’er
To tremulous degree.
These pluvious and savage spawn
Shall stalk the psyche ere the dawn,
Shall stalk my rain-lashed psyche ere the dawn.

The Hounds of Dogg’rel bay this night
To seek the forced and base and trite,
And dog the heels of all who write,
Lest we should lapse their way.
We ever fear to be their sport,
Their pity, ruth and mercy nought
To purple, blue or overwrought:
They hack their hackneyed prey.
So some poor pensmith faces doom,
His garret shall become his tomb
As bursting forth, those savage Hounds consume
Each leaden verse;
Their author thus shall meet the fangs
That shred the hand whose metre clangs,
And fore’er mute his blunt harangues
That brought him to these curs,
I pray all gods, I beg, I yearn,
This ill-dread night is not my turn,
This dark and stormy night is not my turn.

Day of the Dead

sugar skull

Day of the Dead

Nowhere in the Northern world
Could let the dead roam in the Spring,
When new life bursts and blooms unfurl,
And nights are shortening.
No, the Fall’s where they belong,
In piles of leaves and frosty air,
With creeping dark and waning song,
And the world in need of a scare.

Spooky Action

Cathy’s Ghost at Heathcliff’s Window by Laurie Bron

Spooky Action

The laws of physics make it clear
That there can be no spirits here,
Without a source to power them –
Perhaps it is the sunken sun
That fires them up and makes them run ?,
And entropy must surely still devour them.

The peer review remains unmoved –
They’re theorised but never proved
The evidence just will not fit.
So if the afterlife should dwell
On ev’ry side, in parallel,
Then rest assured we cannot interact with it.

They cannot pass through solid matter
Less their waves and atoms clatter
With the particles they pass.
And if they do, they must be part
Of this same universe at heart,
With spectral spectra showing up their ghostly mass.

So wraiths and shades that shake our poise
Are phantom readings in the noise
And not some higher powers.
And if, with heightened fear and nerve,
We misreport what we observe –
The failing is not physics’ fault, but ours.

The Supernatural

Ghost Drawing by Herman Marin

The Supernatural

It may exist – it may at that – though we will never know,
Unless it can exert itself – but then we must ask when and how –
For if we ever see it come, or ever feel it go,
Then that – whatever that is – is as much a part of here and now –
For surely, supernature cannot ever be at war with nature,
Never interact with any thing with which it shares its space –
For even restless spirits must obey the laws of nature,
And even ghost neutrinos sometimes leave the faintest trace.