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Phil Miller: a poem


In the village of Dent in Cumbria, a vampire is said to be buried in the church graveyard.

By this light, the faultline is red,

as if gnawed,

a maw of bleeding rock

open, a broken jaw

loose over the rusting dale

turning slowly in the autumn.

Silence sluices the cold gill

in webs of grey water light

while Simon Sorcerer, converted fool,

gives up his magick

to follow the invisible man,

anticlockwise to the winter sun.

Count the beasts

in the lost words, the wizard said.

We can count them true,

under the shadow of the fault:

Yan – once loved,

Tan – all lost,

Tetherer – whatever I was,

Petherer – I am no longer.

In the churchyard,

under the square tower,

in the cold rich rain,

the vampire is fixed

to a long unlife by an iron pin.

Old Hodgson, a long black insect:

grinning still, dog blood on his lips,

wet necked, a foot inside holy ground.

You, friend, can abandon your magick

under the blessed fell, dripping with light,

by the lime kiln's mossy roof,

a bath for green children.

Sorcerer, parched by the dry falls,

why give up spells that manifest

for a word, the rumour of a great man,

already dead, alive, and gone again?

But hope on, and lay down the old spells.

It is an old church do, a traditional rite,

for the lush green lady, changing hexes

for crosses, warming dead blood

in her warm stockinged thigh.

Laid heavy soft, after the wedding,

hungover, so warm, so warm over my

body, not daring to move.

Oh, this old harmony,

congruent to the drone

of the unrevealed threnody

in the drip, drip, drip in the bowl –

(it takes a brave man

to wear such white, clean trousers

past the age

of forty)

tumbling from the first floor window

past the luscious plum tree, into the Dee's

fossil beach, where dead white years

are millions embedded, minute galaxies,

older than a forgotten kiss

on the grains of the university steps.

These lips dead, peeled, and grown again

on the ragged mouth of the headland

between the limestone and the Silurian,

a life of cracks and falls and abrasions,

subversions, diversions, seen and unseen

like the whispering foam of the flowing river

or the tap, tap, tap of the typewriter

my father left,

his novel half done –

not novel, and not finished –

but still written, inside stories,

anecdotes, books, all the tiresome subsequent lies,

like the eyes that nose the barbed wire:

contained, stinking, uncounted, unnamed.

Simon the Sorcerer, sick, gone now, roving

by the plague village, a rumour under trees.

The hearths grassed over,

their paths grassed over, in the trees –

and this pinioned vampire,

undead, grins asleep and awake

now, alone of all his kind in the dale,

a life half lived, and half over.

See –

stock snuffle over the plot

where we will eventually lie.

We've stopped saying Hi

and begun to say Goodbye.

Yan, tan, tetherer, petherer.

We can count them over, 'til sleep.

The following all gone,

the worthy spells all gone.

Hush, now, wheesht,

we sleep soon, sorcerer, we soon sleep.

You need much memory to tell such lies,

soft weak fossil, curled against the fault line.

Philip Miller is a writer and poet based in Edinburgh. His poems have been published in print and online and his novels are The Blue Horse (2015), All the Galaxies (2017) and The Goldenacre (2022).

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