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Ciao kif inti alright?
I had gotten the feeling it was a now or never moment. On the eve of a new national lockdown in the United Kingdom I caught the last scheduled flight between Edinburgh & Malta. At twenty past six in the morning! This meant getting up at 3 AM & making my way from Leith Links to Edinburgh Airport, all the time following the results of the intriguing Presidential election in America. By the time the plane took off I was already becoming resigned to four more years in Flumpland.
Four more years! Four more years!
All optimism disappears
I’d rather vote for Britney Spears
Its four more years in Flumpland!
An hour’s sunrise later I found myself looking out of the small window at the south-snaking rivers of the continent, over which hung huge ribbons of mist & dew. Two hours more passed atop the white rolls of heaven, before breaking out into open skies a few minutes shy of Sicily. What a perfectly timed moment it was as I spotted below me the three islands of Favignana, Levanzo & Marettimo – or L’Isola D’Aegadi to give them their formal name. It was in 2007, on an extended visit to the furthest out to sea of the three, Maretimmo, that the Maltiad drew its first breaths. The background was a Mediterranean wintering in the style of the English Romantic poets, accompanied by my lovepartner at the time, a farmer’s daughter from Dumfries called Glenda. I had persuaded her to give up her house in Edinburgh, which we had shared for two years, & have an adventure far away from the cold of a Caledonian winter.
After spending two & a half months in Sicily, mainly on Marettimo, we then decided to explore Malta til the spring. The reason for decamping went something like this… Samuel Butler thought the Ithica of Odysseus was Marettimo; I got the epic poem (Penguin version) mailed to me from my library in the UK; I discovered that Calypso’s Cave was said to be on Gozo; ‘Hey Glenda, let’s go to Gozo’. So we arrived in this glorious jewel of an archipelago one late January morning from the port of Marzemi. There then followed two months of residence between Malta & her sister island, Gozo, the poetical products of which are Calypso’s Cave, the Maltese Falcons and the last four of sieges to be found in the Maltiad. The other siege, that of Gozo in 1551, has just been composed on my second winter’s visit to the island, in late 2020, as were the vast majority of the sonnets.
In 2007 I had kept a group-email type Blog, in which my Maltese experiences were poured into & stored for posterity. I give the following as an example;
The Maltese sure know how to party & I have now got one hell of a hangover. Lent starts in a couple of days, & the Maltese have been raving since last Friday – AND ARE STILL GOING! They have a mad carnival on Gozo – carne vale means without meat – & for the next forty days that’s what they are supposed to do. There is a town on Gozo called Nadur & basically half the Maltese population turn up (200,000), rent the pads that are normally filled up in summer & unleash their libidos in all directions. There’s a constant procession of dj-floats & costumes from about 8pm to 6am – EACH NIGHT! Got dressed up as a blood-soaked serial killer on Saturday, but unfortunately I got drunk & subsequently lost he group – no wonder I didn’t get too many responses when I asked for directions. I did manage to find Glenda & our party in the end – a mixture of Maltese, Serbians & Glenda’s mate, Festa – & have just woken up from a two-day sleep. I’m trying to get my head back together again as I had set off writing the Maltiad – a number of poems for Malta which I’m trying to squeeze in before leaving.
I am beginning to tire of the sonnet form a little now. A year of intense composition in one form has seen me grow deep roots into rosy-bedded sonnet-lore, but at the same time, as familiarity breeds contempt, I feel ready to try new modes of poetic composition. One of my first new efforts is set in Calypso’s Cave, near where we are staying. In the Odyssey, the hero gets enchanted by a sea nymph called Calypso & forced to be his sex-slave for seven years. It seem’d a suitable place to share the seven-century-old customs of Valentine’s day, & we made a midnight picnic there, lighting the lovely pad with candles & knocking back the wine, perch’d high over the moonlit magic of Ramla Bay. As we snogged to the sounds of the sea, this was surely going to be my most romantic Valentine’s night ever.
Fast forward to 2020, by the time I landed in Malta that early November morning, the urban votes were beginning to pour in across America for Joe Biden, rendering obsolete my hastily dashed off high altitude quatrain. What was not obsolete, however, was my affection for, & devotion to, the art of poetry. Back in Malta after fourteen years, I was a different poet to the thirty-year old who left in April 2007. I would this time be utilising the National Libraries of Malta & Gozo – two fine institutions curated by three very friendly, noble & eager-to-help gentlemen. In Gozo, a Knights Hospitaler called Chris Galea, & in Valletta – Louis Cini & Donald Briffa. Asking the latter was he Scottish, he replied no, his mother was going to call him Adolf but was dissuaded by certain nuns, & a substitute name was quickly given! Both libraries were cereberally conducive to academic endeavour, & there was something wonderfully traditional about being in the Valetta version especially. This was the old library of the Grandmasters, which you could at one time access directly from the palace. Entering it for the first time is a moving experience – wall to wall with old books stretching into the cathedral heights of its ceiling, & of course wooden catalogue boxes & the dewey decimal system accompained by reams of beaurocratic forms filled out in triplicate!
The product of my two working winters in the archepelago is The Maltiad: Sonnets & Sieges. It is, of course, divided into two sections. The sonnets are divided into geographical regions & constitute a walkable – or driveable – circuit for any future tourist to these islands who enjoys reading a poem where it was set. Their subjects are a combination of local studies & meandering happenstance, for as Wordsworth himself wrote – in the very year that Napoleon invaded Malta-; ‘it is the honourable characteristic of Poetry that its materials are to be found in every subject which can interest the human mind.’
There is also a sequanza – that is to say a family of 14 sonnets – in which I have collated a number of the famous Maltese proverbs. The form I have chosen is definitely not maltese, being the kural form of the classical Tamil poets such as the Thirukural of Thiruvalluvar. However, when dealing with aphorisms, I have found the form to fit so readily again & again. In essence it is simply a couplet of four words on the first line & three on the second.
Sellers have single eyes
Buyers one hundred
Most of the sonnets, including the proverbs, may also be found in my Silver Rose odyssey, an epic poem’s worth of sonnets, 1400 strong. They fit into the schema betwen my trips to Sicily & Greece. Possessing pretensions of epos, I have also composed an Iliadic piece entitled Axis & Allies in which two of the Maltese sieges are incorporated – those of 1565 & 1941-42. The 20-line form utilised by these sequences I have personally designed & named the ‘tryptych,’ & is used in all 900 stanzas of Axis & Allies. Of the remaining poems, Calypso’s Cave is, admittedly, not much of siege – but recognizing poor Odysseus was kinda besieged, I allowed it into the mix – Sonnets & Sieges just sounds so good.
Since the last time I was in Malta & Gozo I had also become something of a historical detective, attempting solutions to famous mysteries such as the true identity of King Arthur. I’ve called the discipline CHISPOLOGY, after the principle of Chinese Whispers, or the ‘Arab Phone’ to the French. Never one to miss a chispological challenge, I have come up with at the very least plausible answers to two of the great Maltese antiquarian questions – what is the etymology of Malta & where is Calypso’s Cave. I have touched on the answers in two of my sonnets, but feel a little more depth may be supplied at this point
The name Malta is said to derive from the Latin Melite, whose origin scholars have placed in two camps – either from th Phoenician mlṭ, meaning “refuge,” or from Ancient Greek melítos, meaning “honey.” Let us instead acknowledge that according to Greek myth, Heracles mated with a nymph called Melite.
Melite bare to Heracles in the land of the Phaeacians. For he came to the abode of Nausithous and to Macris, the nurse of Dionysus, to cleanse himself from the deadly murder of his children; here he loved and overcame the water nymph Melite, the daughter of the river Aegaeus, and she bare mighty Hyllus.
Hyperia was the island home of the Phaecean people before their resettlement on Scheria. One of the oldest historians to write about Malta, De Soldanis, states that Malta was ‘Iperia’ & the Phaeceans were the ‘Faeci.’ The key passage is;
Soon after the trouble with Ilium the Phoenicians took the island of Iperia or Malta after they had expelled from there the Faeci
The reason for their exodus from Hyperia under King Nauthilous was pressure from the neighbouring Cyclops. All this is given in the Odyssey, from the lips of the Phaeceans themselves.
Athena went to the land and city of the Phaeacians. These dwelt of old in spacious Hypereia hard by the Cyclopes, men overweening in pride who plundered them continually and were mightier than they. From thence Nausithous, the godlike, had removed them, and led and settled them in Scheria far from men that live by toil.
According to another very old writer, Thucydides, among the “earliest inhabitants” were the Cyclopes. Joining all the dots basically makes shape rather like Malta, & suggests this particulary Melite was named after the lovepartner of Heracles – remember their was once a huuuuuge temple to Heracles in the south of Malta, surrounded by a 3 mile wall.
My other chispological discovery is also connected to the Odyssey – that of Calypso’s Cave. Indeed, the close proximity of the Phaecean & Calypso elements in the text suggest some kind of common origin. The most enduring location of the island cave where Odysseus spent seven years as what amounts to a sex-slave to a goddess, is on Gozo, at Ramla Bay, but of course there has been many other contenders. In 1790, Richard Colt Hoare wrote;
The identity of the habitation, assigned by poets to the nymph Calypso, has occasioned much discussion & variety of opinion. Some place it at Malta, some at Gozo, & others elsewhere. At all events, we may now seek in vain, either at Malta or Gozo, for those verdant groves of alders, poplars, & the odoriferous cypress; for those meadows, clothed in the livery of eternal spring; for those limpid & murmuring streams, with which Homer adorns the abode of Calypso
My own contribution to the debate is that yes, the Gozitans were right to preserve a folk memory of Calypso on their island, but no, it wasn’t at Ramla where she kept Odysseus as a sex-slave for seven years. Instead, the extremely ancient temple of Ggiantija at Xeghra is the original Calypso’s Cave, & a factochisp took place over time which moved it a couple of miles to the coastal cave at Ramla. However, there is no evidence of some kind of religious sex thingy going on there, but there is a lot of evidence for that kind of thing happening at Ggigantija, such as fertility goddess statuettes & a temple shaped like ovaries. The egg-like rooms could even have been used in some kind of orgiastic ceremony – but that’s pure speculation on my part.
Returning to The Maltiad, the longest piece in the collection concerns the Siege of Gozo, 1551, which also has a place in the Conchordia Folio. This is my collection of musical plays in which the dramatic elements are often given a Shakespearean linguistical twist. In this particular conchord I have formalised the speech patterns into cantos of five equal ten-lined speeches of iambic pentameter, like the Odes of John Keats. Its form has its origin in the Chaunt Royale of the troubadours. Between these dramatic scenes I have placed traditional dances & composed settl’d lyrics for the normally extemporized Maltese singing art of ghana. I have supplied no melodies or music, but having stuck rigidly to the metrical rules – quatrains of 8-7-8-7 syllables, with a rhyme scheme of ABCB – I am sure most of the traditional ghama melodies may be attached to my words. At all times I had G.A. Vassallo’s dictum ringing in my ears, whic states, ‘any poem, written in Maltese, that did not employ the octosyllabic verse is, at least in its form, spurious… & will never become popular.’ I was also inspired in my work with the ghana by another Maltese author & linguist, Guze Aqulina, who stated; ‘some quatrains contain fine images that, handled by a skilled writer, could be woven into verse that was better expressed & more varied in texture.‘
Today I wrote my last sonnet for the Maltiad – the one about Saint Paul. I set off from my apartment in Mankata & headed east towards the coast. Just beyond the Radison Hotel there is a cutaway section of the cliffs which led to a gorgeous, almost private stretch of Maltese coastline, characterised by huge boulders which had at some point in the past decamped off the cliff & settled for eternity where gravity finished its work. Following the meandering paths betweeen rocks of all colours & sizes, it was with some euphoria that I finished off the forty-third sonnet – not counting the proverbs – on the forty-third day of my second stay on Malta. I then drifted back to my apartment via the crumbling remnants of an old British baracks, where sat in my apartment to the scent of Golden Bay, I am literally typing these lines.
For the Maltese I hope that reading through these poems will grant just a portion of the pleasure I had in writing them. Malta & Gozo might be small islands, but they have continental-sized depths & have dipped their sisterly toes into every sub-stratum of history since the dawn of Human consciousness. They are also exceedingly fortuitous in possessing scenes of unrivalled natural beauty, & are peopled by sentinel beings of warmth, kindess & gentle jocundity. To any accusation that I am not Maltese I would reply that I take my art as seriously as the early medieval Icelandic skalds, who touted their literary wares at all the courts of Europe. Whether my work will ever be extolled like theirs, I leave to taste & time, but hope to be remembered at least as an English poet who revelled in the near-perfect conditions that one needs to write poetry, in which Malta, & Gozo especially, possess in abundance.
Alla maghna, uliedi, u Malta hanina
We are the Maltese Falcons
& we fly across the sea,
Every one of us an island
Like our very own country,
& though we nest on many peaks,
From Java to the Balkans,
Each one of us is proud to sing,
“We are the Maltese Falcons!“
The first of us left green Gozo,
When Turks attack’d our shores,
The woman whisked to slavery
The men chain’d to their oars,
Now Arab children share our blood,
Fill’d with seductive concubines,
The first of us, from Gozo.
When Malta met Napoleon,
Half-Eagle & half-Vulture,
Two thousand of us left our homes
To wend thro’ his adventure,
We fought beneath the Pyramids
& formed the Maltese Legion,
Where many loved Egyptian wives
Long beyond Napoleon!
As one or two flew oer the waves
To visit their relations
They spoke quite high of Africa
& all its prosp’rous nations,
“This is the nineteenth century
& the world has freed the slaves,”
So for better business hoping
One or two flew oer the waves.
More Falcons follow’d on the breeze,
Soon one or two was twenty,
Tunisia took thousands more
& Tripoli knew plenty,
Soon elegant Algeria
Welcom’d in the good Maltese,
In whose well-fed & happy wake
Falcons follow’d on the breeze
New York promises Liberty,
Detroit & San Francisco,
So we soar’d across America
Yon the vast Atlantic flow,
Tho’ Falcons few we safely flew
Around that eagle country,
Where all relax under the watch
Of Human Liberty.
& as we hold our islands dear
Once we loved the English kings,
Coupl’d by war’s adversity,
Huddl’d under lover’s wings,
Our females join’d their fiancees
In climates cool & queer
Who soon, from Portsmouth to Thurso,
Grew to hold those islands dear.
& being islanders at heart,
Stunn’d by sun, & sooth’d by sea,
There was a perfect place for us
They call ‘The Lucky Country,’
Tho’ nurtur’d by England’s Empire
From her troubles set apart
So to Australia we flock’d,
Being islanders at heart.
How the Maltese Falcons blossom
In the land of Kangaroos,
With hunting plenty bountiful
Than the fields of Gozo Shrews,
There we converse with Koala
There partied with the Possom
For anywhere good creatures dwell
Do Maltese Falcons blossom.
Hearts burning with our native pride
We reclaim our nation’s throne
No more would foreign Falcons call
Tow’ring Ta’ Zuta their own,
When ever since, with happy heart,
From nests we made world-wide
We’ll return’d by Marsa Harbour,
Burning with our native pride!
For we are the Maltese Falcons;
From the green fields of Gozo,
The mellow magic of Malta
The sea-coves of Comino,
& tho’ our blood flows thro the world
From Java to the Balkans,
Each one of us is proud to sing
“We are the Maltese Falcons!”
The most resplendent of all the leaders… sailed to Melitogaudos
Tristia ex Melitogaudo
In ancyent times, when men were barely born,
Grew legends of green islands in the sea,
Blessed by the Goddess’s fertility
From fishy bays to fields of breezy corn.
Finding their fading pastures waste & worn
A pagan tribe glimpse land from Sicily
& sailing south achieve prosperity,
The isles of Malta from Europa shorn!
Midway between the druids of the West
& starry-eyed magi Chaledean,
Half-way between Rhapta’s ivory nest
& amberful barges Herulean;
Tho’ from the world thou born’st, set apart,
The Navel of the World, seems’t, thou art!
ON THE NAME OF MALTA
Before Odysseus Scheria reach’d
Heracles upon Hyperia beach’d,
Where he could see, beneath the clearest day,
The island of the Cyclopes wide away,
Whose overweening pride & warlike mein
Phaecean plunders again & again.
As Heracles Melite saw one morn
Beside the stream, she to his love was sworn,
To them a beautiful baby was born!
Hyllus, the first eponymous Hellene.
King Nausithous on exodus grew keen,
Commands his people sail to eastern Crete,
Melite, tho’, remains, where thro’ time’s feet
Her island gains the name that Malta’s mean!
On Malta’s rugged margins long ago,
Underneath this glorious dome of air
Landed Dido there, Phoenician princess,
Regal demeanour’d, face & figure fair.
Twyx Tyr & Tarsis, Byrsa’s citadel,
Her sister & she on the sailing set,
To Battus brought, where in a moonlit dell,
“No time is it to stop regaling yet!”
He, Dido’s sister, Hanna, flattering,
Some would say wooed, by strong charms well bedded,
So to prevent a shar’d heart’s shattering,
By the priests of Goulos were they wedded.
Standing together, waving from the shore,
Was the last glance of her sister Princess Dido ever saw.
THE MALTESE TONGUE
Since butterflies of Babel settl’d onto Human tongue
They’ve spread their wings, pass’d fluttering thro’ poetry & song
Some splash’d with Atlantean stripes, some Polka-dot phonetics,
Some blue with Oriental hue & some of them Semitic
The latter first found Malta thirty centuries ago
Words gathering sweet nectar where the fairest flowers grow
Then came those satin, Latin wings, splash’d with soft Grecian vocals
That sprinkl’d music everywhere to travelers & locals
From far-off sandy Araby flew beautiful butterflies
Impressing native sympathies with colouring & size
From catterpillar, chrysalis; from chrysalis, imago,
Then hatches furry butterfly, dialectic Arabo!
With Sicilian & Saracen modern Maltese hanging on,
Tongues stew like rabbit casseroles in a cauldron lexicon.
Friends ! witness my predicament ! as I relate to you,
Not past, nor in your lifetime, was there such hullabaloo,
A heart like yours, ungovern’d, without sultan, king or cares
That threw me without mercy down a well with broken stairs;
Where, yearning death by drowning, my downfall steps descending,
I climb back up and down again, with high seas always facing;
My building fell, its firm foundations buckl’d with a sway,
But it was not the builders’ fault, but the rock which had gave way –
Hoping to find firm stone, found only loose clay not so strong,
It fell, my edifice, which I’d been building for so long,
So my edifice subsided, to rebuild I will not wait
I’ll find a site that suits, to change one’s place changes one’s fate,
Each piece of ground has its own features; white land, black & red
Where, of all things one wants from soil is fruit in baskets spread.
You, by the wide window there, yes you!
You lean, green sapling, touching an arid heart,
Yearning for countryside & the buzzing of bees,
Go out & pick sunflowers, my gorgeous girl,
In Malta, where the Goddesses live long.
At first she was Calypso, fertilty fat,
Then Hathor of the Lotus Flowers,
Next came Astarte of Phoenician star-charts.
To the Sicilian Greeks she was Hera,
Then Juno Rome’s imperium rebrands.
Their temple lay at Marsaxlokk, on whose grey ruins,
A Christian basilica uprose
The Church Of Our Lady Of The Snows,
Go easy, girl, & spread your flowers there.
Such a strange place as Valletta I certainly never did see ― & as a town it is perhaps as beautiful as any existing.
This was no sombre coast of Morocco,
But bastion stone erupting steeply,
Ereside – still lakes of tongues & capes & sails
Could settle all of England’s navies safe,
‘Tis like Carthargo seen by Aeneas’
Thought Coleridge ‘neath bulky battlements,
Where pricklepears, piercing interstices,
Pepper’d Valletta’s palacey enchaunt –
All height & depth, whispers of suicide
Like laudanum dripp’d ; ashore now safely
Sudden violence of crying vendors
Assail’d his senses, as pretty lasses,
Heads tilted under heavy faldettoes,
Vanquish his soul’s languishing on lashes.
OLD MAN RUMINATES ON A STOOL
Where fresh fish rafflers shouted once “see the prize its still alive!”
Old Man ruminates, sat on a stool in the Strada San Guzeppe,
“Before technology picking tomatoes was damn’d hard work,
& still is for the immigrants, while the young bucks of Malta
Go strutting round in well-cut suits chasing senorinas dripping gold
Carrying no longer the only pair of shoes they’ll ever own
To & from Valletta, only worn where walk the Princes…
So many changes have amass’d in time’s short span of passage –
Buildomania, flyovers – ah! the pensions have increas’d somewhat
But what to spend it on?” he remembers saving threppence
& lending it to mother so she could grumble thro’ tombola,
“FATTA!” under the statue by Karena’s white hair blowing,
Checking thro’ the winning numbers, mixing whiskey with ruġġata.
Deflected from the Carnival by food,
Of Bread & Fruit from those too rich to care,
Boys march from Floriana, where they queued
Within a convent’s corridor, the air
Rippling with an expectatory flare
Custom dictates the vestry door lock’d shut
So no-one could exceed his earthly share
Meanwhile the festa finish’d, & on foot
Stream passers-by, who slide inside to slice a cut !
Cometh the crush like Lemming Lane,
Lightless like Calcutta,
From shrieks of pain a sleeping chain
Fills a weeping gutter
Of four-score-ten poor lads dragg’d from the Black Hole of Valletta.
Fifteen euros to enter a place of God !
De Wignacourt was a proper sharp cookie
Observing fugitive Caravaggio,
Who’d kill’d a man, they say, by blade, in Rome
Who happen’d to be the most famous painter alive
Thro’ an unmatch’d usage of theatrical light,
Offer’d his renegade artist asylum & peace
To work on his commissions, produce masterpieces
Like a life-size decapitation of John the Baptist
A sacred subject painted with unearthly frankness
The only painting sign’d by its creator, in the blood…
Before being flung once more into a dungeon fill’d with criminals
To one night find the keys to freedom baked inside his bread
& left at once by secret boat, seeing Malta nevermore!
THREE SHOTS FOR STRICKLAND
What a squabble it was!
A local lord & two Archbishops
Malta’s Caruana, Gozo’s Gonzi,
Claiming it a mortal sin to vote for Strickland
Who thro the gorgeous Auberge d’Auvergne
One day in in May walk’d along corridors
Of Valletta’s Courts of Law –
BANG! BANG! BANG! – three shots out rang
No bullets hit, lodged in walls & ceiling
The Lord glid calmly on, the only ruffle,
While police scuffl’d with Ġanni Miller,
A curt shake of his morning paper
As befitted a noble Count della Catena
Coupl’d with the Strickland’s ancient English line!
WORLD WAR THAW
At the dawn of the Multipolar Age,
While bays of Malta made a perfect stage…
…There was always gonna be a powhow
After the fall of the Berlin Wall
The gruel of the Nazis long gone now
In the Niebelungen Hall
In Valletta’s harbour a battleship
Brings together Gorbachev & Bush
Rapproachement rebounding lip-to-lip
As epic as Hindu Kush
Both nibbling on pizelli pastizzi
They knew they were doom’d now forever
With a fatality kinda Keatsy
To press the button never!
ON FIRST LOOKING INTO GAUCI’S HONEYMOON
Sat under books for centuries unthumb’d,
I waited, the librarian came oer,
Clutching set chose at random from the store
Of poetry by Maltese bards once humm’d;
In half-a-line mine artist heart benumb’d;
This was a poet from a foreign shore
Who charm’d like Keats, true verse with rare a flaw
Declares swan spirit, but by time down-dumb’d.
Proclaim the lovely thing that never dies!
The month-long song that sounds the paean too,
By pearl’d effusions dark, soft, velvet hair
Oer hot face streams; her skyswept, bridal eyes
Dazzl’d by Salvatore’s love’s outpouring
In the southern breezes, & adoring!
Byron, visiting Valletta today,
Would have stay’d at the starr’d Excelsior
Not in the Lazzeretto’s humid spore,
Quarantining quotidian malay,
The smok’d sheets of Childe Harolde on display
Like kippers hung a few foot from the floor
Four tortoises escap’d his portmanteaux
To gallavant in inches tray to tray
Of barely edible vegetables
While chattering teeth, linen soak’d in sweat,
Vesuvian fevers screeching, “YOU LIVE YET!”
Pulp the blood of malarial nobles
Whose viper bite the very veinflow burns
That even a starving mosquito spurns!
THE ANGEL BUTCHER OF SLIEMA
In Sliema, high on Birkirkara Hill,
Carmello Dalli’s local bellies fills
With marinated meat, sausages, steak;
Where, like a Lhaso Apso, half awake
Outside his temple, Payx on bedding lies,
Just look at this contentment in his eyes!
Of one ejected once by icy hearts
Into the streets to dodge the petrol carts,
Who one day was attracted by the scent
Of well-cut meats, etcetera, Fate meant
Him find a home; tho’ Carmello had three
Cats at home already, family
This stray was made, for seven years abed
Outside his angel butchers, & well fed!
THE COCKERELLES OF ST. JULIAN
Survives a strange Safari
Thriving by Balluta Bay
Lives in a verdant valley
Love the waking of the day
Competing in a chorus
As we humans check our phones
Inhawi’s global residents
Roll back asleep with groans
Flock-pack goes out hunting scraps
Near ladies selling flowers
& kiosk chaps in cool flat caps
On the drift of evening hours
Birds cuddle up in huddles for the night
Til life renews at Dawn’s first glaze of light
Thro’ the growing fields of Malta
Amid sandstone walls uneven
Where the sunrays rarely falter
Like the rocks which slew Saint Stephen
When the humid moment beckons
From the deep Saharan regions
For a feast that lasts but seconds
See the wing-nymphs come in legions
Up thro’ Swieqi & Hal Gharghur
Sweeping narrow roads of silence
Locusts dense & mobile tense-flew
Focuss’d swarms of raving violence
“Better sell the lands instead
To the builders,” farmers said…
Strolling inside the seven-storeyed metropolis of Buggiba
A city on uprising haunches slowly skyward rose
Where little British bubbles like the Queen’s Head Pub on corners
Fly flags for John Smiths Extra Smooth, Hopleaf Pale Ale & Strongbow
Across the road from Frank’s Bar stands the Royal British Legion
The St Paul’s Bay’s own subgroup doin’ quizzes, darts & raffles
Dinner dances, coffee mornings, guest & visitors welcome
& the cheapest pint in Malta to absorb the spring Six Nations
Sat among the all-day breakfasts, scoffing poach-eggs, beans & crumpets
& the croaky throats of Cockney’s smoking far too many Marlboros
I thought of cold-tinn’d peaches getting sand in from the beaches
& of baking in an oven the fragility of age,
With capitals & culture just a free bus pass away
Down to vibrant Valletta via Birkirkara, each way.
THE COMING OF PAUL
They came in shipwrack’d from a seething sea,
Paddling up to the beach by broken board
The curious Melitans came en horde
To treat each skinsoak as if family
& built a fire, witness’d a prodigy!
One man by snakefang taken, sharply gored,
Who did not die, who claim’d his sacred lord
Had saved him, sires pagan epiphany!
That same man sang a sermon on the beach,
An angel came to help him from above,
Who trompted the gospel, which would reach
All the way to Gozo’s forest & coast,
Lighting all hearts with burning flames of love –
For Jesus, Jahwe & the Holy Ghost.
The MV Bancinu had been cancell’d
A busload from Valletta just arriv’d,
From twenty-seven only four surviv’d!
A Gozo copper calls up his sergeant,
& begs him send a luzzo from Mgarr,
Despite high winds it came; “You are a star!”
Sang passengers to Salvu Refalo,
All fine until Comino comes a-stern,
Where Scylla & Charybdis waters churn…
“Lets land at Hondoq!” shouts Karmnu Grima,
Whose wisdom over-ruled; boat pulveriz’d,
Just fifty metres from the shore capsiz’d…
…Only four escape panic & confusions,
As for the rest asphyxia & cereberal contusions.
Gozo is an island of poems, ghana, folklore and history. But above all, Gozo is known as an island of legends.
THE WHITE LADY
The nearest land for Gozo’s not Mgarr
But Hondoq Bay, hidin’ yon Comino,
& you will find it not so very far
To Qala, as up snaking slopes we’ll go.
Wanting a sacred chapel of their own
A square of prickly pears the locals clear’d,
Each day they pil’d up blocks of coastal stone,
Each dawn they found those blocks had dissapear’d.
One night, waiting to witness this strange crime,
They saw a lady clad in holy white;
Into the air behind her robes did climb
Those blocks who follow’d on in flight all featherlite,
Joining the others where the village ends,
“We’ll build our Chapel here as God intends!”
LINES COMPOSED ON THE ROAD TO NADUR
The Maltese don’t pronounce their G’s & Qs
& aitches sometimes too
Stuck to my thoughts like tar as I departed
Qala (there’s no Q remember)
Soon wonderful undersun sceneries diffuse
Blowing life’s cleansing breezes thro the mind
Like Wordsworth by Hellyvellyn’s steep, or Tintern,
Rusting oildrum walls, penn’d in hens & donkeys…
Hardly that line of poesy – then Nadur!
But was that poesy? Seems just like a list
Of things, perhaps, but poetry to me !
I mean, just being here is beautiful,
Must be chronicl’d as poets feel the need,
Sketching mists of meteors by leading muses trail’d….
Despite industrial complex scholars circumspect,
Let us place the legend of Calypso
Under the auspices of the Chisper Effect,
Shining truth-beaming lanterns on matters long ago;
According to the very noble folk of Marsalforn,
In a local cave once dwelt a love goddess,
There, the soul of Odysseus immortally torn
Twyx soulmate on earth & Olympian carress;
Some say Calypso’s Cave is the one by Ramla Bay,
Not I, say I, its deffo Ġgantija,
Fertility goddesses worshipp’d there in some strange way
In temple shap’d like ovaries, little egg-rooms, where my seer
Imagines ceremonies, sexualities archetypal,
Calypso as high priestess & Odysseus, disciple.
I sat twyx Xagra & Xewkija
One sunday morn in sunshine
Watching handsome stallions steer
Chariots all in a line
Truck sped off, away they surge
A galloping spearhead
Claphappy punters, pointing, urge
Hermes-heels on hooves of lead
Swerving, weaving, drive, attack
Two laps gush by til the winner
Out tractor slips to smooth the track
While horses trot for dinner
Sat marvelling at this remarkable sight,
‘Again,’ swoon’d I, ‘this island never ceases to delight.’
Victoria! My Maltese Tunbridge Wells,
Of shops & slope, piazettas & bells,
Crown’d by the Citadella, looking down,
Upon two Muses’ temples in the town;
Opera’s to each like Petrarch’s Laura;
Sixteen decades… Astra & Aurora
Battering at it with hammers & tongues,
Whose props realistic? Whose the better songs?
From arms race intrigue benefitting most,
Across garigue & maquis, coast-to-coast,
The Gozitans hear Argentinians,
Colombians, Russians, Italians,
Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, & all
Who’d press life’s highest beauties to this soul.
WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO LEAVE GOZO
I guess I’ve always gravitated north,
The Thames is fine but I prefer the Forth
& yet again the theory holds true
For Gozo seems a Scotland through & through.
So… if Sliema’s Leeds, Gozo’s like Shimla
Or other hill stations – far-flung, sim’lar –
Sporting the trappings of a ruling race
While nailing native custom to its space.
While ferries to & fro by Comino –
Unalter’d view since quite some time ago –
Across the straits, among the speckling sun,
Behind, the sweet voice of a Gozitan
Speaks with golden reason, “We told you so
Why would anybody ever want to leave Gozo!?”
With boots & branch & handsome dog
Just like a Pendle rambler
By tadpoles of the Painted Frogs
I pass’d the dams of Ramla
Up Xaghra, thro’ Victoria,
Kerchen, then Serraflu
From scatterduck freshwater
Thirsty draughts of drought-kill drew
I left the Painted Levantine
For Dwejra’s insane beauty
& there, all alone, in the sunshine
Took a dip in the Inland Sea
This is my precious life of mine,
Yes ! THIS ! my poetry !
HATS OFF TO EDWARD LEAR
I saw on Gozo one of nature’s shows;
Charge waves wind-heaving, exploding on rocks,
Leaving weeping waterfalls, til re-rose
Wide swirls of foam on pulsing aftershocks.
I sit in silence as in yesteryear
An English painter rais’d his spectacles,
With trusted monocle on scenes did peer,
Studying, slowly, colour’d opticals.
This is his pomskizillious coastline,
Raw beauties took to heart in ‘sixty-five,
For him the canvas &, for me, the line!
Composing moments magical, alive!
Our English arts belong like this abroad,
Gales watching strike Mgarr’s ix-Xihi fjord.
Rubble walls are a source of inspiration for me – so enduring. I compare rubble walls with some of my music where the changeable element is in the content not the form
ON ARRIVAL AT AURORA APARTMENTS
A windy day by Golden Bay
The curling surf inrolling
A perfect, halyconic day
To set the poet strolling
Around this corner of the isle
A week to spend in situ
With Mellieha like Carlisle
A vibe that really fits you.
I check into the penthouse suite
Oer Manikata tranquil
Into the street I step, the heat
Wraps warm & wonderful
A local dog latch’d on me in a flash
‘Lets do this pal’ into garigue she bark’d adart & dash…
In Mgarr Square, upon the steps, soft sittingly supine,
I sat, for to absorb the scene with cigarette & wine,
Cars trundle into Avis pumps & out again they go
To join the traffic rivulet in rural village flow
Buses, bars, lambuki pies, pit-stop pastizzi, tarts
Two hundred years ago envision carriages & carts
Hauling fruit & vegetables to Mosta & Valletta
I took another draught of wine, red-lips smoothing wetter
To dawdle down Ta Hagrat by bazaars of farming engines
Enter’d a field fertility, potatoes & spring onions,
Unto Unesco temples now my tour of Malta lands
A bottle of red vino, orange notebook in my hands
Feeling the gale of fifty-seven centuires of time
A blast of skullraw energies to end this little rhyme.
Baron Francis Sant Cassia,
Reclining with a glass of beer,
Listening to opera singing,
Tutted at the phone’s loud ringingl
As up from vinyl needle rais’d
He took the call & stroll’d unphas’d
Outside for the unstamp’d letter
Promis’d… but the old vendettas
Never really fade – Carmello,
Mosta-dweller, skinglow yellow,
Nasty fella, lurks in shadows…
Shoots the Baron in the back
A car sped off along the track
Like souls that flit from dying men.
I stood upon the old Wardija Ridge
Broken by time & fierce westerlies
My left shoulder ta’Lippija Tower
Admir’d the scene as Lascaris had once,
Delicious bastions of ancyent Earth
From Gozo’s cliffs, which I had recent ranged,
Shining with the golden light of Michael,
One of her flat-top tadpoles below me
Who never made the pond, prefer’d to stay
Young, in perpetuity, in this bay,
Now, to the left of the inverted heart
Of azure waves, honey’d by sandy bars,
Machu Picchu’s terraces fertile
Frame off a stunning vista all the world should see.
Mdina! Mdina! my! oh! my!
Masonic marvel in masonry,
Portmeirion of palaces;
Here Publius dined with Paul,
Shared wine for the birth of Jesus;
Here besieging Hafsadi left bread
Taunting civic pride, which, that night
Outsnook to spread gbejniet crust-to-crust.
This is the Silent City, they say,
But standing upon battlements bulbous,
With Malta spreading like a silk-lace fan,
I hear the choristers of history
Singing, with an immensity of pride,
“Come, come take a karrozzin, tour every age!”
DR CARMELO APAP BOLOGNA SCEBERRAS D’AMICO INGUANEZ …
…Is the most noble person on Malta
His line & title* stretches to the time
Sicilian Kings awarded fiefdoms
To those who could raise swords to the standard
Oer six & a half centuries ago
The symbol of their primogeniture
Ingrain’d into Mdina’s main gateway
De facto governors until the Knights
& of aristos Britain recogniz’d
Their family the oldest; flair’d for style,
Proper behaviours breath’d out as if air,
Until the maelstrom of independence
Tore rights hereditary from the tree
Of progress, Malta planted, in liberty!
* Barone di Djar-il-Bniet e Buqana
THE BARREL & BASKET
Malta’s history is the history of the world!
There’s handsome memorials to sub-strata everywhere
Like the chapels of Saint Roque recalling bubonic plague
& the statues of the dog which had lick’d his bulboes clean
Like the beautiful women with their dark, Barbary eyes
Like the half-barrels cemented in a wall inside Rabat…
Illustrious nights at the Centre Spot,
Hospitality! Atmosphere! Service! Value!
The excuisite Scallopini Veronese,
Dances, romances, proposals of marriage,
Frankie Howard & Roger Moore
Loving the fresh meat from St Augustine Street,
& Joe Grech, coming up after long dockyard shifts,
Singing ‘Marija L-maltija’ to erupted, drunken rooms.
As under the Rotunda black, pastoral flock upsang
“Ave Safja, Ave Dia, Ave Helwa, O Mimlija”
Like an armswidth iron teardrop dripping into carnage
Luftwaffe bomb breaks thro’ the dome, bounces off a wall
To fall upon the marble floor, to roll into holy stillness
Four hundred Mosti held their breaths, but none of them could see
Isaias & Zacharis leap down from famous murals,
As Saint Demetrus did when he heard Zgugina’s prayers,
Defusing mechanisms in the esoteric void
Between subconscious & divinity, only to diffuse
Their Godsent spirits back among those still & sacred images
Enstation’d til the fall of time oer feast & congregation,
Who stir to life, who rush outside singing Alleluja
For the Miracle of Mosta, loved & feted evermore!
DAPHNE CARUANA GALIZIA
She was always excitable at school
Looking down her nose at ‘hamalli’ Maltese Speakers
Looking up to see what trouble she could get into
Blogging food consumes journalistic faculties… for a while
It was just the way he said it… so arrogant, so…
It was her duty to expose the corruption
Poisoning the reservoirs of Malta’s honest souls
& as for the Azerbaijanis !
No-one deserves to die like this…
Blown up a few yards from home,
Son running downhill
On the verge of his eternal trauma,
Hopping between piles of your mangl’d flesh
In the dirt of the Triq il-Bidnija.
When Billy Bullen went to watch Burnley
Play their first every proper football match
He bump’d into an old pal at half-time
“Eee – I a’nt seen you in bloody ages
“Where’ve ya bin?”
“Sign’d up fer navy dinni”
“Seen anywhere special?”
“I like Malta…”
“I were there not long back,
In the gardens of San Anton Palace,
Inaugarating for its public use
Free booze ‘n’ that,”
“Who cut ribbon?”
That’s his name, General Sir Arthur Borter,”
“Never heard of him,”
“COME ON YOU CLARETS !!!!”
“They’re out already!”
“Malta sounds nice, pal”
“You wunt believe, mate, its another world!”
There is a place upon L-Imsida Street
Where three legs Manx-like under mansions meet;
Well, notable hearth-homes for the district,
Pinn’d to the pulse of Malta, I predict
I’ll bounce a bonnie sonnet off the beat
Of Malta’s heart, upon L’Imsida Street,
Where signs still hang, memorials of yore
In came supplies thro’ E.Calleja’s store
Johhny Ta’Patist’s famous Colorama;
Poesia, Pulizija, drama
At Malta’s heart, infus’d by Malta’s soul –
This tiny piazetta’s tried it all,
As strolling down Sqaq L’Imsida lane,
I hope I’ll live to feel here, real, again.
ON HEARING THE DEATH OF OLIVER FRIGGIERI
Betwyx Valletta & Mtarfa in the haze of yesterday
Ran the only Maltese railway, gone barely trace nor remnant
Excepting Birkirkara’s station – I chatted to an old man
Who flagg’d a passing student, educated translator,
Who said it was an honour most excellent
To meet a foreign poet taking Malta as his subject.
We learned how the man had hung upside down like monkeys
From one tree in the park, as a boy, with his best pal,
& how, one week earlier, Friggieri passed away
Fount of a grief outflowing splash’d all over social media
Wistful reminiscences laden with privilege, pride & joy
For one whose intellectual minutiae
Grew into well-leaf’d oak trees, shedding academic acorns,
Spreading among the foliage of Malta’s massive minds!
ON THE PRONUNCIATION OF THE MALTESE LANGUAGE
Its going to be rather difficult to explain
How to say ‘Mriehel,’ but I’ll make the attempt;
The Maltese would expect the best of me
Being such an industrious people
In the historical face of historical adversity!
First purse your lips as if to say Mgarr,
Extending the ‘M’, as if you had just tasted
A particularly tasty pea pastizzi pastry;
The next three letters sounds like starting ‘retails,’
But dig the vowel out, then change the pitch
Higher or lower, I’m not sure it matters much;
Now go to the place of rattling chains & wails
Where dwells the Devil & where dreams the witch,
Then say the word out loud, with tender touch…
THE GREAT SIEGE OF MALTA
Launch’d forward with a single-minded goal,
The Sultan’s arm reach’d for the Order’s thorn,
Beaching his high renown aslant the scorn,
& waited for the day of Malta’s fall,
Waited as thousands fought & gave their all,
Brave Saracens, each one a soldier born
Baring the Crescents of the Golden Horn,
To plant them on Saint Elmo’s carnage-wall.
But not for nothing is a native rais’d
To recognize the beauty of their blood,
By Christ’s Knights Maltese fought on every side,
Facing furious battle full unphazed,
Til on the batter’d ramparts freemen stood
Cursing that fleeing fleet with tears of pride.
FAREWELL TO MALTA
Before the burdensome bonanza of my life
Heads griffin east to shake pagoda trees,
If I put my hand to the floor of Malta
I can feel the heartbeat of the World!
Farewell to the one little shop in Manikata!
Farewell ye fabulous fescoes of Hal Millieri!
Auf Weidersehen Tunna Micheli, Adio Axiaq Cutajar!
Goodbye you cool Gianpulan groove gardens!
Fare thee well the smell of pine upon Bajda’s lofty ridge!
Saħħa, at last, ye pedestrian priority strips!
Goodbye to the stray gatti of the golden Argotti gardens,
Adieu thou godly facade of the Auberge de Castille!
Au Revoir to the marble-mute saints in the niches of Rabat!
Goodbye Malta! My Goddess! My Gozo! My Muse!