Tony Williams



” The gruel they gave you was a poisoned mash”

“The gruel they gave you was a poisoned mash.
You sleep until the dreams give way to cramps.
They bind your hands, and clean your mouth with ash.

There’s a grim curve to all those bowls of lamps,
as if the dead might dream the living’s light,
and in this Babylon of human hams

there is a priestess, wearing round her neck
a string of stones, her hair in a bound braid.
She sweeps the sand to make an impish lek

and casts the bones down which she’s set to read.
You say, ‘My future is already told,’
or try to, but your lips and tongue are dead.

What comes to pass when tears lay salt on salt?
When sorcery usurps a holy word?
An empty purse, a plague, a keen insult

laid at the feet of Time. She draws a cord
to close the rumen that contains your fate,
and ululations fill the Devil’s head.

Now you are low in spirits. Plains of wheat,
golden as lions, surrounding villages
where plagues mean men can neither reap nor eat,

fill all the county of your mind, and shy
as voles the stubborn thesis runs: ‘This strange
iniquity must end. I will not die.’”



Tony Williams’s work has been shortlisted for the Aldeburgh, Portico and Michael Murphy prizes, and has been a PBS pamphlet choice. His latest collection is The Midlands (Nine Arches Press, 2014).




Note: The Tellingsbok, known mainly from a 15th century Dutch copy of doubtful accuracy, is a lost masterpiece of medieval prophecy. The Antwerp copyist Arturo Trippe, seeking to impose on the text the emerging norms of Renaissance prosody, succeeded only in obscuring the melody of its Plantagenet original and unfastening the tellings from their allegorical referents.

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