Fellows' Poetry Prize 2006 - 1st Prize - Glyph, Zoe Brigley


In all of the pre-Columbian New World, only the Maya can be said to have
possessed true writing, if we define that as human speech made visible.

At first the Bishop asked her for the truth,
that blandly Latin script that ploughed his tongue,
but each new symbol, sound to fit the glyphs
would contradict his righteous alphabet
and so he found a clue in singeing flesh:
her drowning, hanging footless from the pine.

And yet her words would fly to him as birds,
years later when the speaker was long dead:
often the hummingbird’s red-throated whir;
the vulture’s prod for jelly, beak for eyes;
stern eagles swooping on his Indian fig,
while nets retrieved the mystery of cranes.

How could he know tenors of stony glyphs,
their mathematics of an ageing sky.
He sensed a toothless woman in the moon,
but missed the honey harvest of the fly.
He never saw a crone shoulder the sun,
nor knew the lighthouse of the northern star.

The tally of misreading soon advanced
so legions of proud glyphs were rapt by flames,
but speaking in the ballast-base of clay,
new villages were made from wet leaf-beds,
where souls escape to buzz about the pines
and ripening flowers are budding to be read.

Zoë Brigley

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