Poem: Mossery Gothic

Trauma Scope cover picture - Edited


“Mossery Gothic” is very special to me. I’ve read it at St Mark’s Cultural Association in Florence, Italy, at Cambridge University, 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 church yard.

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

chiselled 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.