Tuesday 31 March 2020

The Note

by Nick Gisburne

I see the faded photograph and smile
It brings your special qualities to mind
Insensitive, cantankerous and vile
Your murder spared the whole of humankind
If I could spend a moment with you now
I’d kill again, but choose another way
I can’t be sure exactly when or how
But always and forever you would pay
I’m curious to read your final note
I found it, hidden, slipped beneath the will
It really doesn’t matter what you wrote
What words could match the magic of the kill?
    “When I am dead your punishment falls due
    The poisons in this note are now in you”

The Cull

by Nick Gisburne

We kneel within the shadow of the skull
It suffocates our dreams with dark despair
We wait to hear the calling of the cull
A breath of expectation chills the air
They stole us, broke us, shackled us in chains
The necromantic phantoms of the night
A hundred thousand souls have crossed the plains
To this, the end of hope and life and light
The brutish horns of chaos sound our doom
Appalled, we trudge in terror through the gates
The flower of our future fails to bloom
The curse of cold oblivion awaits
    We feel a presence, dripping with disease
    And fall to face the slaughter on our knees

Government Guidelines: Efficient Intercourse

by Nick Gisburne

The optimal position for your sex
Is sometimes rather difficult to find
The knees, if planted wrongly, may perplex
Please note their place correctly for the grind
The pumping apparatus of a man
Requires the space to wriggle, firm but free
Please curl the lower portions if you can
And tame the urge to panic or to flee
Permission, if provided, for the kneel
May now produce a bolder breathing rate
Be wary of a troubled warning squeal
One badly guided thrust may heighten hate
    If private parts should fail or misalign
    For further details turn to section nine

Monday 30 March 2020

The Bleeding

by Nick Gisburne

I feel it swell, a shiver of the skin
The rapture of the bleeding thrills my soul
A blissful tide of wonder washes in
But drains into a ragged, empty hole
His coat is drab and sterile, unadorned
A creamy sickness lingers on his lips
As agony returns, my screams are scorned
His sole concern, the canister he grips
The harvest feeds the witches and their kin
For him, their bitter milk, a taste he craves
Beneath the city, buried deep within
A thousand of us, bleeding, starving, slaves
    Cold cages line the walls, beyond my sight
    The bleeding lingers long into the night

Sunday 29 March 2020


by Nick Gisburne

We sail our makeshift vessels to the sun
To purge the burning sickness from our souls
In ignorance the madness has begun
A curse no science sifted from the scrolls
The fever rips at reason, plagues the mind
Tormented visions infiltrate our eyes
The worst of us, convulsing, driven blind
In panic fight the fearful for supplies
The dead lie cold, the living linger on
And none will dare to touch his fellow man
The past we sailed away from may be gone
But we will find a future if we can
    A sinister corona crowns the sun
    It burns us, but we do what must be done

Hopes and Dreams

by Nick Gisburne

The box was labelled ‘All my hopes and dreams’
It hid among the clutter of the shelf
A cardboard treasure, bursting at the seams
She filled it with the pieces of her self
The clippings cut from glossy magazines
Those perfect people, living perfect lives
The distant places, rich, exotic scenes
And all the perfect husbands, perfect wives
She saved them and she vowed to make it so
For years she planned for nothing else but this
And when the treasure had no room to grow
She stored it safely, with a final kiss
    They found a second box the day she died
    ‘My dreams fulfilled’, but nothing was inside

Saturday 28 March 2020

Remember Me

by Nick Gisburne

Remember me, remember what I am
Dysfunctional, incompetent and weak
My life, a worthless, disappointing sham
A tragedy of silence, blind and bleak
Remember me, with feelings of disdain
Duplicitous, contemptible and lost
My face, a broken mirror in the rain
A flower, overwhelmed by winter’s frost
Remember me, the promises I made
Impossible, preposterous and fake
My heart, a stolen vessel, filled with shade
A chalice for the venom of a snake
    Remember, all I say and all I do
    Remember, I will not remember you

Ice and Time

by Nick Gisburne

We climb in starlight’s frozen beams
How frail the world left in our care
As chance enslaves us with its schemes
We journey on, as best we dare

We scale the icecaps, one by one
Through mindless ocean tides of snow
All territory smothered, gone
A wasteful death march, silent, slow

We groan as we begin again
The endless cycle, still we climb
The price of life: the souls of men
A tacit pact with ice and time

Friday 27 March 2020

Captain Odious

by Nick Gisburne

He’s a killer, Captain Odious, the deadliest of men
From a kingdom lost in legend to the sea
Long defeated, long forgotten, he returns to fight again
With an appetite for treachery, and tea

Meet his putrid pack of pillagers, the Nauseating Nine
Each as ancient as the cornerstones of Hell
In their antiquated chariots they form a ragged line
They are wanton, they are wicked, and they smell

See the Dark Destroyer, Dennis, bringing misery and pain
From the osteoarthritis in his knees
He commands the Sword of Sorrows, though it’s proving quite a strain
So he gives his faithful butter knife a squeeze

Watch the wizened warlock, Walter, wave the wondrous Wand of Woe
Weaving wobbly wicker baskets with a spell
It’s a hobby, just a sideline when the wizard work is slow
But he makes a tidy profit when they sell

From the Mountain Halls of Majesty (just past the sewage tanks)
Rides the Master of all Dragons, Fred the Flap
He has journeyed many miles to join their creaking, crusty ranks
And he really needs some cocoa and a nap

The Invisible Assassin is a secret stealth machine
Hiding deep inside a fat man’s flabby skin
Though his body has expanded, still his mind is sharp and lean
Like a wine-soaked vagrant drinking bathtub gin

Ted the Torturer, the ugliest Inquisitor in town
Knows the battle will be difficult and long
For his belt is bent and broken, so his pants keep falling down
And he’s having quite a struggle with his thong

There is only one true Norman: he is filthy, he is foul
More than all the other misfits in their band
Fear the bloated Brown Avenger, leering closer with a scowl
For there’s always something sticky in his hand

And with Bob the Bloody Bowman comes the legend you’d expect
He was deadest of the dead-eyes in his youth
Sadly, Abe the Angry Archer holds the title now – I checked
Bob can’t pee into a pot, to tell the truth

Spiteful Stan, the Spirit Silencer, the cruelest by far
Wears a gleaming helmet, made from something cheap
But he died without a warning in the Buccaneers Bazaar
So the others think he’s riding in his sleep

And their leader, Captain Odious, most noxious of the nine
Reached his ninety-seventh birthday, more or less
On this fateful day of destiny his plans will intertwine
Although most of them are tangled in a mess

“Swab the decks, me salty seadogs! Splice the mainbrace! Brew the tea!”
“Haul the Jolly Roger, lads, and pass the grog!”
He has never been a pirate, doesn’t even like the sea
And he doesn’t own a parrot, just a dog

“Blood the kipper tails, ye blaggards! Pinch the rum and chip the tooth!”
“Poop the sails and dip me tackle in the tar!”
These are phrases half-remembered from a far-off wasted youth
But his all-time winning favourite is “Arrrrr!”

All the chariots are parked behind a secret Sunday lair
In the middle of the Dark Destroyer’s camp
Sticky Norman rolls the map out with a flea-infested flair
And they all avoid the yellow patch of damp

With his wizardry, old Walter brings to life the stinky scroll
Using animated beans and talking flies
It’s a clear, straightforward timeline of their tactics as a whole
But the room of vacant stares is no surprise

“Fog and fishes!” Captain Odious alone has understood
Or perhaps can fake it better than the rest
I would separate the meaning of its methods if I could
But it’s bollocks, so in short: it’s just a quest

“We should drown them, using mermaid oil to cook them in their beds!”
Says the Fat Assassin, drooling on his food
“And I’ll bring my special spider sauce in case the chaos spreads”
“In a pillage, troll tastes better barbecued”

“Let us burn their souls to ashes, dancing naked in the dust!”
Ted is keen to add some drama to the doom
“But I need to polish Percy so he doesn’t start to rust”
And he waves his special tool around the room

Bob the Bowman adds the poison to his trusty arrow tips
“I could kill a gorgon twice with one of these”
But his venom’s out of date, so you could eat it with your chips
It’s supposed to freeze the blood, but tastes of cheese

“When my dragons hear the call, we bathe the city streets in flame!”
Fred is serious, but none of it is true
Most are dying, dead or knackered, blind, incontinent or lame
And the youngest one they boiled up in a stew

Prone to fluctuating innards, Dennis modifies the plan
With the ounce of wisdom lurking in his mind
“If I’m sitting on a bucket, start without me if you can”
“I will launch my special weapon from behind”

All now sit around the table thinking harder than they should
Which for some of them means thinking thoughts at all
“Let us vote,” says Walter, “nine of us, a bond of brotherhood”
“We must all agree. No split, however small”

This is wisdom worthy warlocks wield, in weird and whispered ways
And for this approach he finds no clear dissent
So in turn they state their preference: a hoary hand they raise
As their rancid armpits ooze a fearsome scent

There are seven hands, then Dennis, from the bucket, makes it eight
Only Sleeping Stan remains to cast a vote
But deciding who should wake him spurs a furious debate
None will risk his dagger meeting with their throat

Captain Odious, impatient, raps the sleeper on the head
But the action tips him over, cold and stiff
“Bite me biscuits! Wet me powder! He be scuttled! He be dead!”
His demise is swiftly proven with a sniff

There are words of loss and mourning, there are words of grief and woe
But the eight remaining rogues unite with, “Good!”
“What a mean, sadistic scumbag. I do torture, I should know”
Teddy kicks him so his scorn is understood

“Can I put this thing away now?” Norman pokes the mouldy map
And his finger leaves a fungus-tainted print
He has eaten all the magic beans; the flies adorn his cap
And he eyes the rigid body with a squint

“What about the great adventure? What about the splendid quest?”
“What about you shut it?” Bob growls back at Fred
“We need nine to do this caper, and in case you haven’t guessed”
“We are short by one, cos one of us is dead”

“Where’s the kettle?” sighs the Captain, out of character, and glad
“Tea and toast and, oh, a lovely fairy cake!”
“Thanks for all you’ve done here, Dennis. You can drop the anchor, lad
“I just need my comfy slippers. My feet ache”

To the sound of old men grunting, Stan is strapped onto a horse
Seven chariots, one empty, wobble west
Will he get a hero’s casket? Not from criminals of course
But they’ll polish up his helmet to its best

Captain Odious is dozing in the Dark Destroyer’s chair
That’s the rum, a sneaky measure in his tea
In the frying pan, for dinner, two big T-bones, bloody, rare
Both still chew with their own teeth – they each have three

There are ballads, there are legends, of the Nauseating Nine
Of the ruthless Captain Odious they sing
But for him the greatest prize is something simple, something fine:
Boiling water and a teabag on a string

Secret Ending

As the night falls on our fable, let us wobble to the west
To the camp of seven chariots and men
With a miracle, a monumental marvel, we are blessed
For the corpse of Spiteful Stan now lives again!

“You’re a nightmare, you’re a madman, you’re an idiotic toad!”
“What the devil’s arse was that stuff in my drink?”
“You were only meant to knock me out for ten miles on the road”
“Now I feel like I’ve been buried, and I stink”

“That would never hoodwink Odious.” The warlock gives a shrug
“He’d be after us to join him in a week”
“So I had to make it terminal.” His wrinkled face is smug
“And you’re right, you know – you positively reek”

When you’re too old for adventure and you really need a rest
Read a story, take your teeth out, go to bed
And if someone tries to take you on another stupid quest
Drink a potion from a warlock and play dead

Secreted Ending

Norman? Oy! The story’s over. Yes, we’re finished. Bugger off!
Please go home and write some poetry, as planned
No, no, don’t take down your trousers! I don’t want to hear you cough!
That is sticky! Norman! What’s that in your hand?

Wednesday 25 March 2020

I Was Wrong

by Nick Gisburne

You died before I told you I was wrong
And always I regret you never knew
Emotions, running high, too strained, too strong
The bitter words too many, or too few
What more could I have done before the end
To let you know the truth of how I felt?
Yes, even now I cannot comprehend
The sense of saying nothing as we knelt
A truth is sometimes difficult to share
But this I dearly wish I could have said
I wanted you to know it, this I swear
But suddenly you fell before me, dead
    I thought the poison wasn’t very strong
    You died before I told you I was wrong

Tuesday 24 March 2020


by Nick Gisburne

They follow, dizzy, weeping, to the light
A flock of starving orphans, far from home
She leads them from the miseries of night
Towards the sacred city’s broken dome
The war is over, faded into time
But these forgotten victims still remain
A hundred souls found choking in the slime
And she, their tall messiah, knows their pain
The border sergeant welcomes them and waves
They fall, relieved, exhausted, at his feet
He chains the strong to live and die as slaves
The others he will grind as human meat
    Her payment soothes the madness in her mind
    Tomorrow she will hunt those left behind

Monday 23 March 2020


by Nick Gisburne

If only we could see inside your mind
To trace the shameful lineage of lies
The martyr, truth, is slaughtered by the blind
And hurled at those who mourn for its demise
We long to find a doorway to your dreams
To look upon the chaos in its cage
To penetrate the slander of your schemes
And find the source, the root of all your rage
The sickness of your words infects us all
It spreads among the faithful and the free
An infinite, impenetrable wall
Inside it, what perversions would we see?
    What poisons fill the void behind your eyes?
    What feeds the fraud, the fantasy, the lies?

Blood Ritual

by Nick Gisburne

He grips the slender, sacrificial knife
The wickedness, the ritual, begins
A cut to bleed the essence of his life
The caustic, crimson poison from within
Appalling threads of venom, laced with pain
Drip thickly on the body of the child
And through its cries, that sickening refrain
He smiles to see such innocence defiled
So perfect in its purity, so young
Corrupted to a miserable core
The victim, bleached and blinded, stretched and hung
Engulfed by ancient malice, wretched, raw
    The blood: a plague, an everlasting tide
    A savage curse from which no heart may hide

Saturday 7 March 2020

Epic as F

by Nick Gisburne

In the bleakest bark of night
Painted by an elder star
Long there marched a wiping light
Draining from the deepest bar

Rising to a swarming swell
Velvets hailed a winter’s cake
On the shoulders of its shell
Curled the omens of the snake

As the lanterns blamed the sea
Limping danger caught their cry
Come to pour its golden knee
On their selfish butterfly

Currying with eager scrolls
All was foggy, all was game
Yet their grey, emphatic rolls
Could not flush the feeling flame

Wretched inks were crudely penned
Sullen bruisings witched the room
Shattered stripes no charm could mend
Peelings of a stolen bloom

And the membrane of the spheres
Rose beyond the winsome dew
Thence, the tumbled volunteers
Took their nails to strike anew

Linking through the scarlet silk
Vexed, with kettled charms they cleaved
Long before the dawn was milk
Pardoned feathers all received

Pressed to glean with crooked eye
In the parlous pit of dust
Garlands from a weeded sky
Let the splintered winds combust

Now the flaxen maidens clawed
Calling supple ants of lead
Much was laddered, much restored
Verdant dreams fell overhead

Castles, filtered, flagged and sealed
Thinning as a sister’s face
In the belt, their spins concealed
Pains, pulled numb from steaming space

Fragrant shimmers stopped their words
Seeking truth with valid coin
Nudging through the shrunken curds
Nothing balanced would it join

Fractured makings skived with ash
Soon their baleful candles graced
But the leakings burned as mash
Begging, failing, charred and chaste

From the larder’s pith and light
Stealthy as a moonish crow
Finding silence blushed with blight
Tepid pressings walked in glow

Each aglitter in its clay
Much was primed to salt their souls
Loathsome triggers leached away
Fallen to the bended holes

Fulsome sendings cracked their strings
Shadows rubbed the vowelled stake
Sombre shavings, templed kings
Choked a scaly, scented lake

Now the silvers stitched their nest
Orphans beat a sceptred fist
Ribbons, exiled, bled the quest
Striding through a stubbled mist

So it clung, the sneering source
Leathered engines, plagued with steel
Shards of resurrected force
Drove the evanescent wheel

Born of rage and boiling flow
None could drum its peerless kind
Ever heaving, scalding, slow
Onward lumped its cunning grind

Yet the martyrs of the plate
Dipped their zeal with starch and storm
Bridging autumn’s throw to fate
Charged their hearts to meet its form

Long they bulled its dappled beams
Thirsting for the bait of breach
And at last their staunch regimes
Proved the curtain of its reach

Carping walls once closed to flaw
Spread their keys with swollen cast
Tongues proclaimed abiding thaw
From the bane once overcast

Think ye not to grieve with woe
Languid stigmas dogged with darn
Let their legend burst and blow
Sworn and famed in epic yarn

For this self-inflicted challenge I decided to write a nonsense poem, in the style of an epic legend. However, I could not use invented words, and it was essential to retain a sense that something is happening at all times. It would be fairly easy to write multiple lines filled with any old random words, but in doing that you would end up with a pile of gibberish. The balance of this poem was much more difficult to achieve than I anticipated!

Thursday 5 March 2020

The Whispering Man

by Nick Gisburne

Into the poisonous shadows of dusk
Pulled by a lingering tangle of smoke
Breathing the air for its delicate musk
Wrapped in the fathomless folds of a cloak
Slithers the whispering man

Here, in the alleys of danger and lust
Worthy and worthless exult in their sin
Walking in twilight, they do what they must
Pledging the promise of shivering skin

Faltering goddesses, painting their pain
Decadent flowers with treacherous lives
Panthers, who prowl in a wretched domain
Offer their flesh as the stranger arrives

Odious appetites, founded in fear
Longing to slake an unquenchable thirst
Madness, obsession, compelling and clear
Taking his silver, the victim is cursed

Heady, the sensual scent of her soul
Binds him with lechery, lured to her bed
Silent, he feeds her this crumb of control
Into his sinister scheme she is led

Smiling, she clumsily steps from the dress
Seeking approval of all that she is
Practised in pleasure, she kneels to confess
Lifting her eyes, though she does not see his

This he has hungered for, this he demands
This, from her body, her passion, her life
Slave to a pain only he understands
Slowly his fingers encircle the knife

Deep in the fathomless folds of the cloak
Forged from the elements evil has made
Born to extinguish a life with a stroke
Slender and deadly, the murdering blade

Spellbound, she watches it glint in the light
Clutches cold hands to the curve of her throat
And, through the bitterest depths of the night
Screams with a ragged and desolate note

Crippled with terror, she finds no release
Fiendish depravity darkens the door
Wielding the weapon, the promise of peace
Gently, he lowers the knife to the floor

“Kill me.” He whispers it. “Kill me,” he pleads
“Kill me.” As subtle as shadows and smoke
Life is a punishment, death what he needs
Blessed release from the shame of the cloak

Twisting the head of an intricate clasp
Heavy, the cloth at his shoulders pulls free
Soundlessly falling, released from his grasp
Burning her sight with the truth of his plea

Torments and sicknesses ravage his form
Ghoulish deformities, festering sores
Lesions and blisters, a virulent swarm
Burst from the sepsis infecting his pores

Pulled from his abdomen, cut and re-sewn
Skin strips, unpeeling, hang, tattered and raw
Clinging to cancerous muscle and bone
Only a ruin remains of his jaw

Tumours and ulcers bring pain to each limb
Crooked, misshapen, he struggles to stand
Cruel barbarities, fearful and grim
Miseries dealt by a deity’s hand

Ripped from their place on the whisperer’s back
Angel wings, symbols of heavenly might
Torn from their sockets, bright feathers burned black
Staining his cloak with the darkness of night

Wearing it banishes some of the pain
Now, he is broken, his shame is complete
Fallen from grace, from that radiant plane
Destined to walk every infamous street

“Kill me.” He yearns for it. “Kill me,” he begs
Consciousness fails her, expecting to die
Bending the tortured remains of his legs
Seizing the weapon, he whispers a sigh

Death is a blessing he cannot create
Only a sinner may sever his life
Only with mercy, not anger or hate
Kindness conferred with the cut of a knife

Straining, he struggles to fasten the cloak
Quickly, its power brings ease to his pain
Leaving the girl and the whispers he spoke
Always, forever, he searches again

Into the poisonous shadows of dusk
Pulled by a lingering tangle of smoke
Breathing the air for its delicate musk
Wrapped in the fathomless folds of a cloak
Slithers the whispering man

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Venal Verses

by Nick Gisburne

He journeys far, in storm and gale
O’er mountain, hill and glen
Yet in his quest does not prevail
The car breaks down again

Polluted, ashen, stark and grim
The shades of death and gloom
A cry. A scream. Fate calls to him
“Oy! Tidy up your room!”

My torment brings me no release
A soul burned black and bitter
In wretched hope for inner peace
I paint my toes with glitter

Monday 2 March 2020

Always Running

by Nick Gisburne

She was happy, always happy
and she had a little money
just a little in her savings
and she saw it in the window
and she liked it, then she loved it
and she simply had to have it
so she bought it, and she wore it
and she wanted me to see it
and she ran onto the pavement
she was running, always running
she was running when I met her
so excited, she was laughing
and the laughing made her breathless
but she had to find a crossing
and she saw the bus arriving
it was there and it was waiting
and she recognised the number
but it wouldn’t wait forever
and the traffic, always busy
if she waited she would miss it
but the road, she had to cross it
and the gap between the traffic
could have been a little bigger
but it looked enough to make it
and she saw it and she did it
and she ran as fast as ever
she has always been a runner
and the woman tried to stop her
and she said she almost had her
but she’s always been a runner
she was running when I met her
so the woman couldn’t do it
but the traffic, oh the traffic
it was busy, always busy
and the bus it wasn’t going
but it wouldn’t wait forever
and she didn’t want to miss it
so she did it, she was running
she was running when I met her
but the driver didn’t see her
no he said he didn’t see her
and he’d had enough of waiting
she was running, always running
she has always been a runner
and she wanted me to see it
and she knew that I would love it
and the bus, it wasn’t waiting
and it moved into the middle
and she knew she wouldn’t catch it
and the traffic was behind it
and she must have seen it moving
but she didn’t see the driver
and the driver didn’t notice
and he drove a little faster
and he said he never saw her
she was there and she was running
she has always been a runner
she was running there to catch it
but she never could have made it
and she never should have done it
and the driver couldn’t help it
and he never could have stopped
and now she’s dead.

She had always been a runner
she was running when I met her
she was running, always running
and she wanted me to see it
and I saw it and I loved it
and I put it in the coffin
and I wish I could have told her
that I love her more than ever
but I can’t.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Deep and Red

by Nick Gisburne

The ritual defiles each waking day
We wait, and know that one of us will die
Two savage cuts will mark the victim’s head
The scarlet cross of judgement, deep and red
Relief for those untouched, those free to cry
Cold silence from the one they take away

Yet still our captors find another way
To magnify the torment of the day
They leave, and when our eyes no longer cry
At sunset, as the day begins to die
When evening brings the shadows, deep and red
They come to find the mark upon the head

She kneels before them, slow to lift her head
Pale fingers try to brush the hair away
It mats and tangles, bloody, deep and red
This simple moment ends her final day
They lead her into darkness, there to die
She screams, a twisted, agonising cry

We hear the bullet; silence kills her cry
The cross a shattered target on her head
This is no way to live, no way to die
Together we must build a better way
And long before we greet the break of day
On all our heads are crosses, deep and red

Their disbelieving eyes blaze, deep and red
And we who stand before them do not cry
They leave us, but do not return this day
Each mark protects the mind within its head
Together we have found a better way
Together, we no longer fear to die

Tomorrow, doubtless, one of us will die
But we will bleed defiance, deep and red
The cuts, the crosses, none will wash away
And if we falter, if we fall and cry
Or face a thousand bullets to the head
At least we learned to live for one more day

A sestina – one of my favourite poetic forms, which is why this is now my fourth.

The narrative is not based around any true historical event. This was my attempt to capture the strength of the human spirit. When all hope seems lost, sometimes we can find a tiny light in the darkness.

After writing several sestinas, I still cannot find a way to appreciate the need for the 3-line envoi, which is supposed to be attached to the end of the poem. It really stands out like a sore thumb and wrecks everything I’ve tried to build. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie, seeing it coming to a perfect conclusion, and then having a narrator say, “And the moral of the story is, don’t trust anyone called Darth.” Believe me, I tried to write one, but it didn’t work for this poem at all, so in this case there is no envoi.

Note that I did add an envoi in my very first sestina, The Jagged Killing Knife, but perhaps I was just lucky, or the narrative took me in a fortunate direction. I may think about the ending before the beginning next time, to see what I can come up with.

I found a lovely quote from Stephen Fry, in his book The Ode Less Travelled, at the start of his section describing how to create a sestina:
This is a bitch to explain but a joy to make.
My thoughts exactly!

The Little Merman

by Nick Gisburne

I’m a little merman
Short and stout
Top half builder
Bottom half trout