Extract from version of Catullus, Poem 64:
Theseus sets sail, Bacchus arrives

… Ariadne, naked, miserable,
Watched his ship diminish and battered her wings
Against the dead ends of her labyrinth
That you loved me still the same
That you loved me
You loved me still the same
That you loved me
You loved me still the same

                       with a zip-wire trip-wire bomb-bounce big-band
Bang Bacchus fronting the Electrowercz crew
Scouts and shouts for you Ariadne it’s love this
Time with a true all-over blue tattoo
And you
                                           ecstatic erratic
Torture Garden’s hardened exhibits
Pour on the dance floors stimulant-silly
Bite the apple and couple and triple
And quadruple
The hand on the bottom the have you had sex yet
Brandish the fertility spike
Cover up the business end
With a pine cone, it works for some,
Juggle joints of botch-butchered bullock
Bodies bound with seething snakes
Cluster round the glass inspection
Case with the naked human inside
Thrust bold tentacles through the holes
(Tourists try to glimpse the rituals)
Spunked spanked scarlet tooth-vibrating
Tinnitus-techno here’s a floorshow
The Infamous Boom Boom and Skinny Redhead
Shinbone shindig flutes with savage


Everything is very small 
You wake up face down on the counterpane

Each tiny prick each satin stitch
Flame stitch stem stitch isolated knot
A deafening echo of embroidery thread
Dragged by a needle through a hole it made…






Small town girl stay small
Small town girl stay town
Small town girl stay girl
Small town girl stay stay

Don’t let them be your piss take, your Christ’s sake,
Don’t leave the cul-de-sac,
Cleave to the front and back
Gardens where cats are buried,
The gate in the holly hedge
To the cricket pitch and the sea-
Sound of the new motorway,
The slant-roofed aromatic
Bare-wood under-eaves space
Lit by a leaded window
Hoarding the can’t-throw-aways,
Mistakes and what’s-this-fors,
Six new Russell Hobbs kettles,
The scraps from hopeful home-made
Dresses for poor-relation
Occasions or stabs at seduction,
Old paper patterns and buttons,
Photos of the marble
Instants to punch your stomach,
Blurry carbon copies
Of legal documents
About the sad thing that happened,
And waiting in the Romeo
Y Julieta cigar box –
Quiet as coffinned star-crossed
Parents loving each other –
She knew she would find you again
Along the dusty decades
In her tinsel wings, white
Satin and shiny blonde hair,
The fairy off the tree
With all her fakery
Turning out to be real
And still the tree itself
Stiff arms clamped to its sides
After the year the resinous
Natural one caught fire
And had to be thrown out blazing
Which you aspired to be
Despite your cold damp trail

And the day the motorway spoil
Made a high ridge in the field
Blocking your way from the station
You wouldn’t go round, but over,
Heaving your legs through the sticky
Sucking puddled yellow
Ooze, climbing and sinking
As far as your weakened knees
To walk in from the patio
Holding out your filthy
Trousers. As she laundered the
‘You would never have been
Found,’ said your mother, now lost.

But that was long before
You met the looked-after children
Who hadn’t been always. They’d come
Alone from this or that war zone
And wouldn’t grow up to drown
In some ancestral shrine,
Not having feet in the silt
With streams of hallowed junk
Flowing around: they’d run
Fast to outpace the river,
Too nimble to get their clothes wet.
Some were child-parents already
Although to join the council’s
Young mums’ group they had to be
Twelve years old at least

So yes, there are other lives.
You can take the M25.

That cigar box though,
With your ashes in it.





The body of Christ

Whether you're planning a one-day event or a week-long conference, you can expect elegant tasty meals that keep everyone satisfied.
                                     —Website, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 2022


Elegant | tasty     | meals that keep | everyone | satisfied
Dactyl   | trochee | dactyl                | dactyl      | dactyl

A dactyl is lōng-shŏrt-shŏrt, pointing down the line,
Here in the number of gospels, with an opposable
Trochee. Caterers’ cuts are plastered blue.
Hand of pork or pigs’ knuckles braised with okra –
Ladies’ fingers, slightly slimy, and thready
As if their fishnet gloves were caught in the mix –
And elegant eglantine, eagle en gelée
Entwined with sweetbriar garnish.

Make it tasty nothing wasty
No such thing as over-hasty      
Win the sauce dash Daddies HP
Gravy granules MSG
Bovril chocolate garum sprint of mint –

Not food but meals,
Great wheels of cheese
Or dairy-free Brie,
We aim to please,
Courses for horses
Borne into hall by coursers, served on chargers

That keep, not for ever, but for the highly fortified
That keep over there, a comestible tower,
Your own weight in sweet and savoury pancakes
Eaten off trays in relays, so pile in,
Everyone, no exceptions, there are options,
Fake meat. Take. Eat. Stay satisfied. Not like

This one, Erysīchthon.
Pagan takes bronze axe to sacred trees
For dining-hall rafters, Mother Demeter
Curses him with hunger bottomless
As oceans. Diminished like snow
Or wax dolls in the sun,
Down to hide and bone,

He gnaws his stricken family’s herds, flocks,
Sacrificial heifer, mules, race horse, war horse,
Cat, mousetrap scraps, himself –
Leaving a stagnant pool of metaphor
To show our faces staring back at us
And, just behind us, Bacchus. But when trees,
Stiff mitre napkins and archbishops’ portraits
Are ash and charcoal, we’ll still do our best
To feed you. Silver service on request.


Note: Sources include Callimachus (Hymn to Demeter) and Ovid (Metamorphoses). This does not bear any relation to the catering at Corpus Christi College.



[Isobel Williams lives in London. She has written and illustrated The Supreme Court: A Guide for Bears (2017), Catullus: Shibari Carmina (Carcanet, 2021) and a chapter in Design for Legal Education (Routledge, 2022). Her versions of all Catullus’s works are published in 2023. http://isobelwilliams.org.uk/ .]

Copyright © 2022 by Isobel Williams, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.