Poem: Mossery Gothic

The poem “Mossery Gothic” is very special to me. I’ve read it at St Mark’s Cultural Association in Florence, Italy, at Cambridge University in England, and at a curated Ekphrasis poetry reading at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. It’s a poem that I really enjoy reading aloud, which is rare for me.

Mossery Gothic

We talked…until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – our names –

– Emily Dickinson

Sketched hedges &
cracked effigies circumscribe
an Oxfordshire churchyard.
Toppled headstones
flaunt lichen’s verdigris
blossoms, while ivy climbs
headstones, finding footholds
in calligraphy.

Gardeners manicure weeds &
peel creepers from Cotswold
rock, propping the dead
head to head so they won’t
topple like drunks
on their moss-soft shadows.

Victorian women followed
a trend – lining garden sheds
with moss foraged from forest
and cliffside
to fashion soft grottoes
called mosseries. They’d
compete to see who
grew the most exotic species
of living tapestries.

Sepulchres are modern mosseries;
on a headstone’s face
not an angel, not a name
is left dead:
Anna, eighteen seventy-two.
Her feral name grows
posthumous plush.
She’s anonymous.

I fillet the trenches of names
with a knife; soft fonts
stolen from suckles of stone.
A’s from Annas, M’s from Marys.
An alphabet of the dead.

Moss falls from the
elegant cleft of
Sacred to the Memory –
bald as bone, salvaged
words speak through
the slack jaw of
chiseled crevasses.

I lay their green names
on a stone wall, a roll
call of the deceased, the way
gardeners write with moss
on the pages of barn doors.
Single-celled poems, spores
of primordial language –
a font fed with sugar
and buttermilk.
I’ll feed their names
sweet things, whisper
them alive & trim
their savage alphabet.

I’ll paint myself with earth
to blend in with the church
yard demographic –
show my friends I belong.
I’ll peel moss’ gothic
fur from the smell of earth –
lowly spore, true north.
I’ll caress it all over,
a softer dress; my breasts
slick with buttermilk.
Soon my bones will
be anonymous
as everything else
effaced by this humble plant
that censors stones.