2. On Speaking with the Natives
Tower of Skulls at Niš, Serbia
Mr Gutch and I spent days with the Archbishop
drinking spirits of wine and aniseed and cold water.
We could not refuse the dinners, twenty-six dishes,
the apricots and cherries, the cucumbers-
beaded and chilled and sprinkled with salt.
The fields make bitter black bread here.
The people stare. One night we walked from the Palace
to the Tower of the Skulls and met Stevan Sinđelić.
It's easy to climb the Tower of the Skulls,
we are only visitors, after all, and our bellies are full.
But the flesh of his head had been shipped to the Sultan,
and he clattered like a stork from his bone white tree.
I've stolen the skull of Stevan Sinđelić
though his teachings must come third hand to me-
to the dragoman in Serbian, to Mr Gutch in Italian,
and from he to me in English, so I may understand.
We trot towards Dover under the star-light-
the passion is on him, pitching and tossing,
and tied to my saddle. But all he can tell me,
comes down in the end to blood, a battle, and dying.
3. My Red Morocco Jack Boots
There are seven stations between Belgrade and Alexnitza
where changing horses takes an hour. At Pashapolanca
we had bread and slivovitz then lay on hard board
and slept very soundly. In white caps and German blouses,
Turkish trousers, with twelve yards of stuff, and jack boots
(mine were red morocco) our cavalcade moved off.
At night the path was very striking, summer lightning
pierced the dense foliage. I am not a Romantic
but here and there we came suddenly upon
encampments of caravans from Stambul and glimpsed
the wild forms of shadow men around a blazing fire.
At one such place I left my companions
these travel notes being all I took. They blundered
onwards to their next hotel, a consul dinner
in a dirty town, while I dismounted gesturing
and asking, in English, for the local wine.
These days I while away my time in idle pleasures
for the men are very sociable and well disposed.
I found a good specimen of a Serbian woman,
alone in the woods on her way to market,
her hair dyed black and twisted to one side;
she wore, like the Greeks, a tight under vest,
a purple velvet jacket, embroidered in gold and silver,
a treble row of ducats around her neck
and a silk petticoat which slipped through my fingers
like the river Morava . A practical woman,
she saw what I wanted, and opened her legs
by the side of the mountain, saying nothing.
(These poems are based on the travelogue diary of George Sydney Davies (1822 -1895) Solicitor Registrar of the County Court and Clark to the Justices Commissioners of Taxes (Davies & Son) Crickhowell, my great, great grandfather who travelled with Mr Gutch to Serbia in 1846.)
Reproduced from Bone Monkey, published by Shearsman, 2014.