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The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems

The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems

by David Morley


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Over the past 25 years, award-winning writer David Morley has become known as one of Britain’s most original poets. Renowned for his energy and linguistic inventiveness, Morley is a master storyteller. From Romani tales to sharply observed lyrics about nature, from political allegory to vividly imagined histories, the poetry in this collection evokes the enchantment and truth of the natural world and our place in it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847772060
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2015
Edition description: None
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

David Morley is an ecologist, a naturalist, a poet, and the cofounder of the writing program in the department of English and comparative literary studies at the University of Warwick. He has written for the Guardian and Poetry Review, and he is a recipient of the Templar Poetry Prize, an Arts Council of England Writers Award, an Eric Gregory Award, the Raymond Williams Prize, and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and the poetry collections Enchantment, The Gypsy and the Poet, The Invisible Kings, and Scientific Papers.

Read an Excerpt

The Invisible Gift

Selected Poems

By David Morley

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2015 David Morley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78410-006-3


        The Site

        after Mandelshtam

    Why am I trailing you,
    now through a pinewood, now
    through the words I write,
    going nowhere fast?

    There's a Gypsy encampment on the steppes,
    newly moved in – sharp fires gone
    by morning; the stamped ash
    surrenders no clue or forwarding address.

    I am in the pinewoods, trailing you.
    There you were, like memory, a shackle.
    Cling to me, you said.

         Voronezh, January 1937

        Clearing a Name

    Spindrift across Stalmine, a place you won't know.
    Reedbeds, gyp sites; flat Lancashire's Orinoco.

    I watch a mistle-thrush on a blown telegraph wire,
    leave my car by the dead elm above the river.

    The camp is two caravans. The police have just left.
    Two blue-tacked Court Orders this wind can't shift

    or the rain read. A girl squatting with a carburettor
    on her bare knees. Another, older, in a deck-chair

    spoons Pot Noodle. Their dad with his pride, no joy,
    wrestles over the yawning bonnet of a lorry.

    Mam is out, knocking Blackpool's door
    with her basket of tack, toddler dressed-down with care

    for the rending detail: no shoes. I watch
    the father unbend, fumble at the fire, splice a match

    from a stray half-wicker, then I come down.
    He lets a welcome wait in another time,

    twists a roll-up, nods OK to his staring daughters.
    Eyes me like fresh scrap fenced from a dealer,

    half-sorted, half-known. Yes; he knew our family
    'more for what they were' – Hop-girls, Iron-boys –

    'but they married out, and there's the end of it.
    Your muck's paid no muck of ours a visit.'

    A thin smile: 'Except your dad,
    he came with the nose of Concorde

    on worksheets reeking of grease and swarfega,
    bleating "an inch is now a bloody centimetre".

    What's up with your schools? I'd say. Him – "This is school."
    We squinnied blueprints as if they were braille.

    Taught ourselves ground-up. A small conversion.
    If your muck had stayed in family, if your gran

    hadn't gone nosing gaujo like they were the end-all.
    Now you've had your end, fair do's. Get off pal,

    you're not burnt up on fags or dodgy work.'
    The ends, we want; the means are half the work:

    something in his grip, under my sleeve like veins,
    where hands lock together, become the same,

    'Arctic on Antarctica' ? I need background.
    The uncle on my mother's side
. 'Pulled from a pond.

    The police were out for a man. Any taig or gyp.
    Guns broke for a chicken-shoot. They found him face-up

    and it fitted. They shot shite in a barrel.'
    That B-road where Lancashire discharges its spoil.

    Split mattresses. Paint tins. Grim stuff in carriers.
    The sign No Dumping No Travellers.

    I make my way back to the car, running
    the hard keys from hand to hand then, turning,

    pocket them. I do not move. It is not smart to show
    (that plain car by the woods) how and where you go.

    One uncle of mine went swimming. His name is snow,
    or thaw, or mud. And you wouldn't know.


    He might be my brother for all he is gyp.
    His is not the time for pullovers and combs;
    his plum shirt is Blackpool, very Blackpool.
    I have watched his van for hours, from Marton Estate
    to this traveller site; a mole in mole's clothing.
    He will scrabble through the mud of everything:
    the nuts and nuggets of marriage, a bolt of a ring,
    weights of children, slack pulleys of police.
    Burglar by night, a rain-soaked genius
    of the jerry-built coastal pre-fab,
    he stacks his van with valuables:
    a deadman, a handspike, a parbuckle.
    Lightning moves its show across the camp.


    I am trying to behave but my father
    has a fist crammed with kitchen knives
    like a brilliant new hand, and the rest
    of us in the house are suddenly not alive.
    One of us is guilty of the crime of two biscuits.
    One of us has taken biscuits without permission
    so all are condemned and have earned his lesson
    which is to cower in the bedroom's corner
    without cover while he slices our arteries open
    in the air between us. His house is his abattoir.
    His home is lit with hooks and steel hands.
    We are not alive as he bars the bedroom door.

    The morning is ordinary because I am three.
    My brother unwinds a lace from his shoe.
    He works its little rope across the hearth
    until it makes a dripping strip of light and flame
    that he slips slowly on the back of my hand.
    I am trying to behave as though this never happened,
    keeping my scorched hand below the tablecloth
    while my father, sick with guilt, serves us soup.
    My brother knows I can soak up his secrets.
    My left fingers misbehave and my father
    forces the hand. Seared open. Veal of vein.
    My brother at this time is being flung into a wall
    and all I am thinking is that I do not like oxtail.

    I do not like the blood thirst of what I can hear
    through the floor of my bedroom as my father
    flies off his handle again, but this is a real handle
    that he's handling as a weapon, and the sitting room
    is being smashed and smashed and smashed to death.
    Better the mirrors, I think, than my mother.
    But he's upstairs by now, kicking his way up
    and dread is draining through that black wall
    but the wall doesn't shelter, not when there's a door
    to be hurled off its hinges like it was never there,
    him yanking me by my cock to his yelling height
    before dropping me down a well in that dark room.
    His face swells to fill the door as he finds his range.


    Our family eats the funeral sandwiches: pink paste and white bread.
    My saucy Scouse uncles pinch at their bits of tobacco.
    They fall, clawing at fake heart attacks each time I come up to them.

    We are in the kitchen of my dead grandmother's maisonette.
    Her sisters squawk about compensation, weather, and the Third Eye.
    One of my aunts goes spare: 'What's dead is dead.
    We're small people. We can't take on the whole bloody NHS.'

    The internal pressure burst the capillaries beneath my gran's eye
    diagonally, like a whip might, opening her hale cheekbone up.
    Sigma is the shape carved on that seventy-year-old face
    where the care-worker screwed his fist around her nose to smash it.


    They found you cold, fists jammed on each other,
    Arctic on Antarctica. And between them,
    paper, scrawl: a crumpled note signed and sealed.
    To release it meant prising a wrist,
    cheating the knot of rigor mortis.
    Then a policeman picked it with a jemmy ...

    Just once, this once, make sense of me?
    Her words, questing, tightened their wire
    across my chest. The car where they found you,
    shut windows weeping with monoxide,
    was hauled away; sold off to strangers
    at a cut price they never fathomed.

    Lies. All of it ... a first, final readership,
    hostaged to your death, in a coroner's office.
    You should have shared. You didn't.
    All this time
... all that time, you knew.
    Your parents bunched, stark as witnesses;
    made for the door. You'd cut the ice.

    Solstitial visitor, always the wasp
    in your quick-fire combing along my shelves.
    Were those books your pollen?
    or the excuse for returning them
    unread, spurning discussion
    with a thrumming whisper, bed?
    All reasons for talk squandered, unheard.
    Only fear of love unsheathed your sting.

    Ice. Our first winter: a glassy hive.
    Honey in jars – bottles, sidelong,
    whispered KILNER, KILN ... KIL ...
    I dipped a spoon in the first of the year,
    tugging the surface to a muscle of lava;
    slipped it, neat, in your bowl of coffee.
    Half-love, your love's language:
    you stirred its black spiral.

    Snow. December; castanets of hail;
    holly we brought in snared with hooks.
    Taps betrayed us, a clanking mutiny
    bursting a wall. We boiled snow:
    snow on snow. Our windows, portholed
    on a white atlantic, silently froze.
    Bed, with the fire's dying collusion,
    gave up its gift as we crammed for warmth.

    Leaving unspoken what the doctor told you,
    the clack of your step said: Don't, don't,
... I cut to the kitchen, jabbing
    a kettle's thick, cool waist for coffee.
    London in March. A second opinion
    grudged the first. Anything to be done?
    Nothing between us the train couldn't say,
    hammering northward: too late too late.

    Not now
: your touchy, embattled cry
    as I steered you from silence, hoping you'd walk
    a little of the way. 'The woods perhaps?
    a tree-creeper's nested.' But: No – you
. I'd veer out, make eighty yards
    before I stopped, stranded with wonder:
    your seeping, last hours (minute by minute)
    creeping like a bird on shrivelled bark.

    That silence. I tried it.
    An anchor scudding the sea-floor,
    you were snared on a weightless sand;
    for days you couldn't move or speak.
    Then, a false spring:
    you asked for food; for your bed
    to be placed in the hall-way
    as though you'd fledge.

    Your silence was fear, furled like a sting.
    Your dad called by to run you to hospital.
    Wants me to go and get it over!
    You swayed to the car where your father
    sat smoking. Cunt – I'll die
    where I like

    slamming to the bedroom,
    snatching your things.

    They found you cold, the car's drained engine
    ticking to zero; you, flexed over yourself,
    catapulted to that final wish: an Arctic quiet;
    the sealight torching your eye like a mirror ...
    I came home to cupboards – their after-life, memory;
    your clothes strewn-about, burgled from wardrobes.
    And the garden: its hive, a Vesuvius of larvae,
    fresh tenants of this frozen site.

        The Goodnight

    An owl unfolds across the bed:
    its eyes, hungover can see the dead;
    the swerving and the narrow hours
    are no longer mine, no longer yours:
    perfect ships of life and work
    butt each other in the dark.

    While adulterers in their box-rooms stuff
    straw into their whinnying love,
    and swimmers-out-of-sight clear
    the deep-water and the disappear,
    dreamers in their tents will know
    that snow will light the night for now.

    Light we taught to obey our touch
    is surrendered to the switch.
    The asthma of our deaths goes deep.
    We are not alive in sleep:
    the panic of my child at night
    is the world's unbearable flight.

        Mathematics of Light

    The wavelengths of daylight
    register on bright equipment:

    flutterings across a spectrum
    from infra-red to ultraviolet.

    Discover me at an ice age,
    at a midnight of colour,

    in a place where rainbows
    unbind themselves completely.

    But you stand in the noon.
    Shadows are inventing themselves

    over your quickening retina;
    the day moves on to shade

    when spires are like pen-strokes
    in the heat haze ... It's

    like Newton's gold trances
    as he skimmed slates on the sea,

    like Einstein's chatter over tea,
    borealis, wispy cigarettes. It's

    down to the human to live it, take
    it in. Keep my sunlight warm for me.



    Apart from the sea we have the weather
    in common, but the morning moves on
    like a dunlin, precarious, stilt-walking
    on her own reflection. A steamer's vapour
    has collapsed on itself over the ocean.

    Someone is dozing beneath the low planking
    of the jetty. He knows that tomorrow
    the mist will deepen, again it will snow,
    the sky will come with something like hail.
    Meanwhile, he has a worm-ridden bed
    for sleep. Meanwhile, fishermen sling nets
    from the rounded bay where a single sail
    slows to a cloud. The nets come up empty.


    The grass is marram grass and the sand, sand.
    These are facts that hang on everything.
    Beyond the heath are meadows that send
    entire crops to the big city. Everything hinges
    on this; any sign of life is the weather breathing.

    After the meadows and steppes, the Volga.
    River, I thought I'd mislaid you like a mirror.
    For days I didn't belong to your shoreline
    until I drank you down, felt your sharp tongue
    etch on my voice a clear voice of water.
    No mention of your tide's slow censoring;
    anything can happen, and everything.

        The Spectra

        after Mandelshtam

    I have come for you and I have seen you.
    It is a miracle. For once, you're going nowhere,
    neither out to walk the rounds of the horizon
    nor home to scribble white lines about it.

    I half see you through that knife-hole in the ice,
    past shivering, staring back. Have you stopped here forever,
    the record of your death still spinning,
    that snow death you always longed for?

    It is like this, my love, where skaters
    swerve beyond you, where the horizon's lightning
    makes you run any place but towards it:
    it is like nothing on earth.
    The sun is seven pure fires
    and they in turn will come for you.

       Voronezh, January 1937

        The Boy and the Peacock

        after Mandelshtam

    What's left of the morning is probably good:
    milk, tea, black bread, the minutiae of exile.
        But what we are told in this ordered room
            won't please the escort or the gods.

    They've given me four years to survive my name.
    (The landlord calls me everything under the sun.)
        What's left of the morning is probably good
            but it doesn't please the escort or the gods.

    A farmer came today, gave us oats and kale
    to make good broth, to see us through the worst.
        The escort eats his fill, goes back to bed.
            (What's left of the morning is probably good.)

    So, we walk to a hill where legend has it
    a boy lived with a peacock. He was thought a god.
        He fed on rainbows, scarlet milk. He was a god.
            It pleased everyone to think so. And they survived.

    Now he's wrapped underground with all he had.
    His body's his own, was it also theirs?
        They'd picked him over, found he wasn't a god
            but all too human, all too dead.

    What's remembered of him can't be bad.
    I like the way they buried him with seeds.
        The escort shouts us back. He thinks he's god.
            What's left of the morning is probably his.

                Voronezh, December 1936

Osip Mandelshtam on the Nature of Ice


I'd read about glaciers and I'd seen glaciers. How a stream runs
under their bellies, sluices from their lower reaches. What it fetches
up along the way: the whole sides of mountain, gripped and ground through
its kidneys. And the taste of it as water, both sweet and sullied
or tender as blown glass. Which explains how in poems I confuse
glaciers and glaziers. Which won't explain why I am becoming
both ice and glass.


He's forgetting when it started but during his exile years
they never owned a mirror. The sheen on ice supplied something
of the sort. On washing day – what little they had got bashed and
rinsed in a sink in a local theatre – he'd finger out a small
ice-mirror from a puddle, walk with Nadezhda to that grimy
theatre. And they were suddenly respectable to themselves,
staring into its tiny rink. While it lasted.


How to stop ice melting from contact with live hands? Or being
flashed to crystal by every movement? I learned this on placement
in the Petersburg factories: a trick used by glaziers: slip
plate-glass in silk and, between forefinger and thumb,
gently pinch the opposing ends. It gives birth to a
pressure: it tensions lines of force which are
hurtling through the mass like waves.


The secret was this: with each move he made, he
made his body ride on that new born force-field. Like
carrying a child: like walking on water: vigorously,
tenderly, he strode as if he were ice.


The charm was in the looking:
I became frozen to my image. Out of earth, out of water,
I ran clutching the ice-mirror. Through forests,
through rain. But all I know is: I
would wake walking, in controlled
free-fall, diamonds
in my fist.


Excerpted from The Invisible Gift by David Morley. Copyright © 2015 David Morley. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
The Site,
Clearing a Name,
The Goodnight,
Mathematics of Light,
The Spectra,
The Boy and the Peacock,
Osip Mandelshtam on the Nature of Ice,
Two Temperatures for Snow,
The Excursion to the Forest,
Albert Einstein in America,
The Field-Note,
The Aftermath,
The New Life,
The First Circle,
St Lucy's Day,
You Were Broken,
Of the Genus Diatomaceae,
Smoke, Mirror,
Sèsi o Lety U Písku,
The Boy and the Song,
Ludus Coventriae,
The Lucy Poem,
Taken Away,
The Circling Game,
The Library Beneath the Harp,
A Lit Circle,
Rom the Ringmaster,
Zhivàkos the Horseman,
Demelza Do-It-All,
Colin Clown,
Harlò the Watchman,
Kasheskoro the Carpenter,
Stiptsàr the Stilt-man,
Mashkàr the Magician,
Saydimè the Strongman,
Moolò the Musician,
Skeleton Bride,
The Invisible Gift,
The Boy and the Wren,
Ballad of the Moon, Moon,
Gypsy Ballad,
from The Gypsy and the Poet,
Wisdom Smith Pitches his Bender on Emmonsales Heath, 1819,
The Ditch,
A Walk,
The Gypsy's Evening Blaze,
Wisdom Smith Shows John Clare the Right Notes and the Wrong,
First Love,
The Hedgehog,
Second Love,
A Spring Wife,
Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery,
A Steeple-Climber,
My Children,
The Souls,
A Bivouac,
The Ring,
The Friend of All Friends,
The Strayed,
The Act,
The Gypsy and the Poet,
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,
About the Author,
Also by David Morley from Carcanet Press,

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