Issue 23: David Punter


Unum pro multis dabitur caput


I have been the pilot,

I have been the helmsman,

I have been Jesus Christ

(though I think William the Breton went too far there)

and yet after all these centuries

my storied bones lie unburied all the same

despite what they think, up at the Cape

that bears my name.

Some have said that I usurped

the heroic power of Ulysses; but the helmsman

is never the captain - no, he is too valuable for the risk of loss

amid the gushing seas, under the swinging boom,

the stink of sea-wrack. God,

how I could curse these arrogant nonentities

who know no more of the sea

than I of wedding-feasts, celebrities.

Let me put it plain;

I was a simple man, born to the sea

though with a divine instinct

which served me well so many miles from shore;

but my words were rough,

my speech untutored – they made me fit

like a machine, like yonder capstan,

to be spun for mirth and benefit.

How does it go, the old shanty

(though new of course since my time) –

‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest’ –

well, the search for treasure

was never my priority,

but to bring the gentlefolks safe home to tea

From the deadly, the all-encircling,

wine-dark sea.

I have spoken with Charon,

you know, two old seamen

with jobs to do; never mind the rank

of those who come our way –

the best passengers, he said,

are those who never rail

and accept their fate -

real seafolk never quail.

And yet I cannot rest.

They say I am ‘ex-communicate’,

but they know nothing

of signals, code, of all the signs

whereby the dead return to shore,

weed-dripping, foliated, sorely dressed

between the covers of a book

not yet written, dire, distressed.

‘The Unquiet Grave’;

yes, I know of that slur,

but what it is to me? I continue

at the helm, dragging the dead

across their fabled seas

and if they ask me after

what good has been done, well,

I dissolve. In laughter.

At least they never lashed me to the helm;

that I would have found

undignified. Every man has his price

(Charon told me that)

but also his reward.

Forty-foot breakers, bone-shaking slaps,

skies like thunder,

I guide you all. The great seas collapse.

You dare not see my face,

for it is scoured by the winds,

etched on the fo’c’stle, I am the ship itself,

mahogany, cedar, oak,

And yet I could tell you

where you are, so very far from home,

with only me and the deadly sea

to sing you through the foam.

Dead I am now, no revenant,

so they tell me, and now

There is no helmsman and you

are all lost on the swelling seas

as the continents dissolve and bad men

fight for power; and I am glad

to have done what I could do;

to be with you now would make me mad.

Michael Scott, the Magician

Michael Scott, the Magician, practised divination at the court of Frederick II,

and dedicated to him a book on natural history, which I have seen, and in which

among other things he treats of Astrology, then deemed infallible … It is said,

moreover, that he foresaw his own death, but could not escape it.

He had prognosticated that he should be killed by the falling of a small stone

upon his head, and always wore an iron skull-cap under his hood, to prevent this disaster. But entering a church on the festival of Corpus Domini, he lowered his hood in sign of veneration, not of Christ, in whom he did not believe, but to deceive the common people,

and a small stone fell from aloft on his bare head.


in whom he did not believe

there is escape under this small stone

escape under this iron hood

escape with the skull of the

         (body of the Lord)

escape from the Lord

in whose court

in whose skull

you have foreseen escape

from the cycle of prognostication

which is the iron circle of escape

under which


is the lowered body of the Lord


divination by the falling stone

veneration by the fallen stone

         at this deceived festival

                     to which

circles the stone, divining

and conveying divinity (though not

                        to the deceived) -

         veneration of the

Corpus Astrologicum, then deemed falling but

infallible, killing by bringing to life

          a lowered divinity


always in the cap is bare

divined to be bare

dedicated to the cap which is

under bare

           not to believe

one must fall from aloft

      and circle under

               to foresee the cap

                        (then deemed

infallible) to fall


the bare cap and the skull is

the festival and the raising up of

that which is to be venerated

 (if it is not to deceive) to prevent

           this disaster

                    entering a church


          by deception


Benvenuto da Imola at the court of

Frederick II at the court of

Michael Scott, the Magician, one could have

been foreseen/fallen, and then

would come the circle

(come the circle) come among other things

           he treats of

                   (yet is fallen)

and he, lowered under the eighth stone would seek

            to prevent

to prevent (himself, his self)

from dedication to a natural history

(of practised festivals)

in whom he did not




                            by prevention from?

                         veneration by/words/by

             the practice of prevention. Deceived

     (among other things) by the circle of belief which

             cannot fall

                       but is a small stone dropped

              through the pitch abyss like

              one’s own death falling

              (one’s own deathly falling) and

               prevention by crawling

               under the eighth

               small stone

                       the fall of death

               which is deemed infallible

               foreseen = prevented?


Not death is prevented death

                   nor can be

except by practised divination of the book

which is prevented/which is not, but

on the festival of Corpus Domini

Michael Scott, the Magician

          chose/was chosen

                    fall when

he could have lowered/or not

                   his bare


David Punter is a poet and academic. He has published six poetry pamphlets: China and Glass, Lost in the Supermarket, Asleep at the Wheel, Foreign Ministry, Selected Short Stories and Bristol: 21 Poems. He has had poems published in a wide variety of magazines in the UK and abroad, including PN Review, Encounter, Thames Poetry and The Puckerbrush Review. He has taught literature in England, Scotland, China and Hong Kong; his most recent post was as Professor of Poetry at the University of Bristol. He regularly performs with a group of poets and jazz musicians called Echoes and Edges.

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