Issue 29: Isobel Williams

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. .]

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