Byrhtnoth, using spear as walking-stick,
clutches at its steady upright line,
shrinks his tired weight to its wood
as the fight grinds on about him.
His ooze of pain becomes his sped-up life:
the pure white of his beard to pull at his cheeks;
the curl of his fingernails clawing to his palms.
Selective hearing dulls the battle’s din:
the muffled talk heard through a rubber mask;
the upstair tenant’s stomps upon the floor.
In the midst of which comes sharp the ring
of the river flowing clear over stones;
the heavy distant tolling of a church;
his own tintinnabulate whistle above the wind.
Still clinging to his staff as his sight closes in.
A creep of bright-rimmed blackness.
A misted tunnel-mouth.
Till nothing but nothing surrounds him,
an empty sphere neither lighted nor dark,
with him at its centre, a seed
still alive, still himself — unresponsive;
a mind re-learning how its body moves.
Till he senses his circle of calm has been breached,
feels for his sword-hilt;
once veined in gold
now black and cold.
The last drop of strength to close his fingers,
to draw the blade an inch,
to give air to its etchings —
before a blow to his arm
breaks the bone, and the sword
snicks back in its scabbard,
as his strength is snuffed out,
by J. O. Morgan
This is the final Weekly Poem before the Christmas and New Year break. Many thanks to all our publishers for contributing such a terrific selection of poems in 2013, and thank you to our readers for supporting them and us. Have a very happy Christmas and excellent start to 2014!
‘from At Maldon’ is copyright © J. O. Morgan, 2013, and is reprinted from At Maldon (CB editions, 2013) by permission of CB editions.
J. O. Morgan lives in Scotland. His first book, Natural Mechanical (featured in a previous Weekly Poem), won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize; its sequel, Long Cuts, was shortlisted for a Scottish Book Award. At Maldon is a re-imagining of the Old English poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’, recounting the engagement between a ragtag army of Anglo-Saxons and a party of Viking raiders on the coast of Essex in 991. It was chosen by Andrew Motion as one of his ‘books of the year’ in the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. You can read more about the book and see further selections from it at the CB editions website.
CB editions, founded in 2007, publishes poetry alongside short fiction and other writing, including work in translation. Its poetry titles have won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize three times (in 2009, 2011 and 2013), and have been shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and the Forward First Collection Prize. In 2011 CBe inaugurated Free Verse, a one-day book fair for poetry publishers to show their work and sell direct to the public; the event was repeated in 2012 and 2013, with over 50 publishers taking part, and has become an annual event. Find out more about the publisher from the website, where you can also sign up to the CB editions mailing list, or ‘like’ the publisher on Facebook to keep up-to-date with its activities.
Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.