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The Air Mines of Mistila
by Philip Gross & Sylvia Kantaris (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 1988).
Poetry Book Society Choice 1988.

The Murmurings
Max and the Muse

The Murmurings

Was it the murmurings that told the way to go
astray on the plateau where no one knows exactly
what is mined? (Deep down in a shaft a father's skull,
unseen but touched and cradled in the dark...)

The father lowers her deeper, deeper into pitch black –
'Search, Susan! Search! There must be more, the evidence!'
She hands up ribs, a shoulder-blade, a pelvis,
and finally the toes, joint after joint.

'There must be more than bones! Search! Search!'
(Xencha tells such tales.) It seems the dying mother said,
'Up there is where you'll find my home, the place
I loved and longed for where dreams made me thin and sere.

There are my people, high above the plain (its comforts,
its mere wheels of trees and leaves); up there we stored
our currency of memories.' Xencha, are you mad?
You make up so much that I can't believe or not.

She sighs, 'We all must start again.' So I must listen
to the voices of the children? 'You interrupt too much!
Stay still and hear the same voice of the mother.'
Do I hear or dream her ancient infant words?

'You will sense that up here one would wish to live forever,'
she recites. 'Dawn, morning, midday and the night,
always the same except for this one difference – the air
which changes colour with the changes of the light.

There is a draught of murmurings, as if . . .' She stopped.
So how can I translate what no one really said?
I agree that there were voices, whisperings – but clear?
Distilled from air? Is this the truth? (Xencha is asleep.)


Max and the Muse

Bare legs in the dust again,
bare brown legs in the dust

my gypsy thief, my tinker from the mountain,
how can I speak my love, my heart, my mistress?

Asking for it are you, slag?
What's in your bag? Unzip!
And do something about your hair.
My wife is pregnant.

Get a move on, bitch! Quick smart!
And keep your trap shut.
My wife wears hats.
Spill the lot out. Show me all your trash.

(Some as always – three beans,
two nails and a bit of amber wax.
What the hell am I supposed to do with that?)
I said my wife is pregnant! Are you deaf?

Slattern, strumpet, tart!
Why can't you just look decent?
Your skirt rucked up, your hair a mess of ragwort . . .
I've warned you once. My wife wears hats.

Bare leg in the dust again,
bare brown legs in the dust

my gypsy thief, my tinker from the mountain,
how can I speak my love, my heart, my Alys?

Sprag! Crank! Get out!
Shift back up there, tramp! Rag-bag!
My wife is pregnant
and my wife wears hats.


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Sylvia Kantaris
Last updated: 06 December, 2000