Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Last Storytellers of Cremone

I see them emerge 
from St John’s Wood underground:
the women of the bare feet,
the women of the crooked back,
the women of the shuffling step,
turbans huge as baskets
wrapped around their heads,
necks bent to the left as if listening
to the dreams of scuttling trains.

I follow them to their little room
just off Grove End Road.
They promise to tell one story
for each round of fabric 
that is unwound from their heads.
And as they talk, all that they have carried
falls onto the floor:
painted tea-pots, silver thimbles and spoons,
wedding dresses, candlesticks,
waistcoats and blankets sewn by hand.

We sit on the floor and laugh.
They strip the night from my eye.
They tell the story of the king of the wind.
They voice the jewels of my own wonder.
I ask them where their land lies.
I ask them why their heads are weighted down.
I ask them what they yearn for.

One story for each round.
But every piece of fabric they remove
must wind around my own head
as each tale I hear becomes my own.
I hear of the lost land of Cremone
and wonder how a country can be lost.

Each woman tells a different tale:
the trees grew too tall and toppled down, 
the borders stretched too thin and disappeared,
the people turned too proud and moved away.
I hear of a land that faded out of time.
I hear of a land now carried in the stories,
in the turbans, on the heads of these women.

One story for each round.
And when the night is through
I feel my own head
newly turbanned
filled with stories.
We are the women of the milky eye.
We are the women of the laughing teeth.
We are the women of the vanished land.
We are the last storytellers of Cremone.


  1. Hello - found you because of your blog being featured at NaPoWriMo 2014 today.

    You employ language which while straightforward, is both compelling and inventive. Your pen carries through from first to last. I especially favor the final two lines of the first stanza. ~ M

    1. Hi grapeling! I'm really glad you visited my blog. Thanks so much for your lovely comment. Wishing you a hearty last few days of NaPoWriMo!

  2. Oh, I am so much happier now. Such beautiful use of language. I wonder as I always do when reading other's poetry about how much is natural voice and how much was skilled artifice. When in the first verse you shifted from iambs to dactyls (really more like //u than /uu; like a folk song), it was so sweetly done that I just shivered. In the third verse, the triplets of asks without waiting for replies is like the excitement of a child demanding more stories. I like all the repetition. I like the way that the last with four repetitions of We are the feels like three repetitions with a powerful apostrophe to the verse and to the poem. I love love love alliteration and there's such delicious alliteration here like tall trees that topple and silver spoons. And beautiful sonorous internal rhymes abound. This would be a fun poem to take apart for someone young that doesn't get yet that there's a lot more to poetic devices than a fixed foot and meter and rhyme scheme. This is like dancing. The shift of device throughout supports and enhances and celebrates the voice. It sounds like a story teller who sometimes drops to a whisper or sometimes speeds up or slows down and uses all of their artifice to pull us into the story. I was pulled into the story. Thanks. It was quite wonderful. I love language well done.

  3. Thank you so much, Patrick. I'm really glad you enjoyed the poem and the story too. Your comment has made my day!

  4. Oh! I almost forgot to mention how much I liked the story of the story: the mythic creatures from a mythic place initiating the subject into their art. Giant and epic in subject, yet small and personal in handling. Sweet that.