Marie Marshall



We met death one day, you and I.

We met death one day, you and I, and here’s her horror:
her face is bland, forgettable, without those rays of sun or clouds
that show the passing passions of a mortal;
her clothes are neither night nor day,
but the brief, grey shade of gloaming;
she has no scythe, but she does wear a watch about her left wrist
at which she glances with such awful casualness;
its chronology is absolute to the nanosecond,
but still she asked us if we had the time.
So, if this apparition is yea plain, yea commonplace,
why did we run from her, our mouths a waterfall of screams?

Tomorrow I will die but it’s still today

No time to talk with so much living to do.
Tomorrow, for you, will be like this:
I have stepped through a door, errand bound,
and I might step back through at any minute.
Have you lived here all your life? people ask me.
Not yet, the answer is a river in my head, not yet.

I gave Veronica a pear

I gave Veronica a pear (her hair cascaded
to her shoulders, burned, low sun on the Dolomites);
she balanced this sudden fruit, steadied on her palm,
such equilibrium it seemed eternal, la pera. I gazed,
and all I could see was my own, convex gift.


It may be midnight now,
a time when I don’t dare approach you,
but in my heart and memory it’s day;
we meet, shake hands,
kiss each other’s cheek,
and stroll to a pavement café;
we sit in the sun
– you have had enough of shade –
and talk of this and that between sips.

I tell you that you are gold,
should be dressed in golden and silver thread
with an enigmatic mask,
your words are an oro-argento flow;
you grin like a schoolgirl and change the subject,
asking me what wine goes with love.
I say it doesn’t matter
but you contradict me, firm, graceful:

It’s of great import,
the season and the weather,
the time of night,
the type and frame of lover,
the activity of love,
the Hippocratic humours;
the sanguine reds of the south,
the melancholy whites of autumn, the rosé,
or the fortified concoctions of Portugal,
each has its place,
its appropriateness.

We both smile as though at a private joke,
bump our heads like nighttime, resting boats
on an unexpected swell.
A man passes, his gaze snared
by your almost-bare breasts,
his eyes lost deep in your cleavage;
then he sees my plain glare and hurries on.

We laugh behind our hands
about the follies of the Male.

Veronica 2

It has all been said before and you, dancing away,
call back over your shoulder – Then why say it again?
But seeing those twisted cords of weathered copper
go to gold in the sun, or be like dayset behind the pines
in the flicker of votive candles while I breathe
oh God, why must she kneel? – or again when you pause
at your evening mirror, captivated by a memory of the day,
and you hold a strand or two like the anchor-chain of a galleass
reflected in torchlight on the water, then darling, then
my own eyes jewel themselves with barely-caught tears;
the word of our existence, of you and me, is why?
and again why? and again until the sharp edge of death.
The world is a garden grown wild, wilder still,
weeds interleaved like so many lives, becoming more arcane
as light drowns in the sea and the brave, tenuous burning
on the edge of each cloud embers out to null.

Lament of Maria Maresciallo at the funeral of Veronica Franco

I recall our hand-signs in carnival,
the silver rings on your white gloves,
your fingers making to me –
you are daytime, Wooden Mary,
these are evening and small hours.
That was your name for me, and with it
you hurled stones and rotten fruit
when our friendship became tedious;
but at other times you rested your head
against my shoulder and sighed,
often a lover’s name, a Saint’s name,
but still it was I who felt your sacred breath,
its scented play on my cheek.

Tintoretto and Titian worshipped you, you know,
and your lover the Saint, he adored you;
but I was your sister, the only initiate of Berenice,
I wandered your depth and breadth, nave and aisle,
danced in your wake, walking on water by your magic,
swam in your subtle flow, submerged, miraculous;
I traced the letters of A M O R E in the air
while you were lost and looking away, inspired,
made kisses inside my mask, daydreamed of you.

A single balotina, a single mourner,
her hand resting on your coffin
where the wreck of your beauty is caught,
I look around, above – the planes still fly,
the vaporetto is full of Japanese,
the world somehow has not stopped,
and under my breath I say:
Ite, pensier fallaci e vana spene
Your house has fallen, the Ca’ Franco overthrown,
in secret it has crumbled away, it is dust,
forgotten, your pages have been torn from you,
ripped from your gold-chased spine,
the book of your life is defaced;
be written on me still, Veronica –
while I live let them read you in my plain face,
all the words of love, the true looks,
the eyes behind the mask, verità;
and when a flourish sets the fine to me,
let me close and lie beside you,
book to neglected book, closer in this finality
than we have been in life.

Testament of Antinous

My last wish was to sleep,
to rest from adoration,
to say that I was love’s freedman
and not it’s slave; and so
I lost myself, a leaf afloat
under Nut’s stars,
brief thoughts of you
and of Bythinia came
before I drank deep and deep.


We call ‘em the town corn, that undisguised,
unexpected, wrong-footed harvest
that throngs the grey grass verges,
jigging to the bow-wave of careless cars and vans.
They shout, “Yellow! Yellow! The days are yellow!”
We call ‘em the town corn, raucous, the town laughter,
and we let ‘em kick winter’s arse for us.

go west

You are a stray,
your face in the train window passing me,
go west, go west, go west,
away from a kiss, that small, straying voice.
Your eyes, by the wayside, their lids shelled, shaded,
their lashes grass, tear-swept,
your kiss baulked by the passing train,
go west, go west, go west.
Your stunned look guessing at love,
face bravo-tilted, impoverished of paint,
plain, open, not mine,
the grey stains on the glass as the train passes me,
go west, go west, go west,
away from the zest of your breath.
Your words, though sweet and high
like the tick of pebbles dropped on monoblock
one-by-one, the tock of bricks
as the shrouded house falls,
your cheek smooth as a hillside,
all in that past window as the train so fast,
go west, go west, go west.
The air of your syllables, hot and singing,
and everything, everything has passed,
as the train whirls the dust
and my fingers, raised to wave, fall,
go west, go west, go west,
and it is gone like a summer shiver, past,
go west, go west, go west.

Calle dei Morti

There is one more reveler in the masquerade,
one more domino and high-crowned tricorn,
if you can count the carnival-goers heartbeat by heartbeat;
we whisper of the one who measures by silent paces
the Calle dei Morti, those few, narrow metres
from the bridge un, dó, tre, along this little ravine
quatro, zsinque, sie, to the Calle Cornier and back.
Here things are somber, quiet, moonless, barely touched,
a shaft for rare stars to mock from unshuttered windows,
neglected washing to become shreds of clouds, shrouds
shaken by forgotten hands, numb, damnable breezes,
after-breath of words spoken by a lonely bell from San Stae,
by the lick of water on worn, greened brickwork,
by the lumber of wood and bump of boats moored carelessly,
by the late, late, oar-stroked clock-rhythm of a bisonno;
and still the swirl of a cloak, the relentless slow-march
sete, oto, nóve, as though carrying the world upon his shoulders,
or the dead of a thousand years in a single, child-size coffin,
steadying himself by placing sole after sole on the flagstones,
pausing only when there is laughter in the Campo San Cassiano,
fading from sight, melding with the dark of an old doorway
when homeward, hesitant shoe-taps skitter – faster,
faster at some middle-moment without knowing why.
At times of mute shadow, of the hollowed, callous city,
calling by slight hands, by sleight-handed, gloved gestures,
by finger-counts in missed seconds, shapes, echoes, half-echoes,
this nook runs from nowhere to somewhere else,
and the steps continue diéxe, ondexe, dódexe, to the end
and then, as though there is neither left nor right in the world,
back again, again, again, footfall after dark footfall.


Winter when I am hunched and jealous,
spring when I am mad,
summer when I am after-drunk and lazy,
autumn when I wake up to the loss of a year.
The correspondence between the things I feel
and my thoughtfulness, their secret languages,
the words and the singing phrases they use,
whispers, poetry, their agreement,
the thread that weaves between them,
bright colours, green for jealousy, gold for hope,
blue for tears, red for the striking hours of passion.
My fall, my rising, the clothes I wear to warm me,
to adorn me, for modesty, those that clap
and fold like sails in the wind,
the ocean on which they bend and pull.
That which clasps my hand at death
and tells me I am not alone.
Madness, children’s songs.

Copyright © 2012 Marie Marshall

One drop of blood in the pool
and all the little fishes sing.

       (Carmina Piranha by Marie Marshall)

Marie Marshall, otherwise in Gaelic Mairi bheag nan oran (Little Mary of the songs): reclusive, agoraphobic, middle-aged, dysmorphic, gay, awkward, Anglo-Scottish poet and writer. Would prefer to be introduced by a paraphrase of Balthus’ famous telegram: NO BIOGRAPHY. BEGIN: MARIE MARSHALL IS A POET OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US READ THE POEMS, but life isn’t that simple. Started writing poetry in 2005 and since then has had upwards of one hundred and seventy poems published, including one on the wall of a café in Wales and one etched into an African drum in the New Orleans Museum of Art. She published her first collection, Naked in the Sea, in 2010. She rejects all the Chinese walls of poetry that divide formal from free, product from process, whatever from whatever.

MM is Associate Editor of the magazines Sonnetto Poesia and Canadian Zen Haiku, also of  the forthcoming anthology of modern sonnets The Phoenix Rising From Its Ashes, and Editor of the zen space, an on-line showcase for haiku and related writing. Her macabre short-stories have become a regular feature of the Winter Words literary festival in Scotland where they have been read aloud by professional actors. She does not generally put her poetry up for awards, but has won or been placed in several, which she regards as incidental to the actual publication of the poems.