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Despised by the gods because of limp
Kayhausen Boy got hogtied with cloth
while the elders held him fast
for the sacrificial slash at the throat,
though it was clear
the afflicted child could not outrun
his history in the sphagnum bog.


                 from Boggy Groun by Greta Ross 







There is Nothing Left But You and It Was All Too Much
The Long-armed woman of the waters
Journey to the Vast
Reflecting on a friend’s letter written on New Year’s Day, 2021
Codes of Being
The letters
In Transit
Boggy Groun
The Crossing




1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Greta Ross


Greta Ross was born in Australia, and graduated in Medicine in Sydney, but now lives in Canterbury where she is an active member of SaveAs Writers. She has travelled widely, working in projects in many countries including Ukraine, Russia, and Central Asia. Her poems have appeared in many poetry anthologies and poetry journals over the years, such as Dreamcatcher, Aesthetica, Coverstorybooks, ArtemisPoetry, Erbacce-2020, Poetry Kit, Sentinel, Poetry Space, Spilling Ink, Segora, Aryamati Poetry, as well as gaining prizes in competitions. She published a first short collection of poems, Facts of Life, in 2008. In 2022 Greta graduated with MA in Poetry Writing through Newcastle University and the Poetry School, London. Recently, she won first place in the Canterbury International Poet of the Year competition and is  one of three judges for the 2023 competition. Greta enjoys writing in different styles, and many poems are a response to the natural world and to current social and political events. Some of her more unusual poems explore the “underbelly” of human experience with the aim of unsettling facile expectations about the poetic subject.





There Is Nothing Left But You and It Was All Too Much
(double ‘golden shovel’ poem after two Tracey Emin paintings
in the 2021 RA exhibition, Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul)

It floored me, your disembowelling laid bare, till there
was no space in my head to hold the pain that is
all abattoir and murderous desolation, yet nothing
too far-out that can’t be believed by this woman, left
much to her own demons and wasted in the dark, but
       hammering out knives of light to puncture you.

There is a whispering hush-hum in the hall, and it
is as if sickness had entered our bodies, but was
nothing other than Munch’s ghost reminding us of all
left-behind loves, the dead blinding him too,
but look at his portraits disclosing so much
you too would fear to share.

The long-armed woman of the waters
“the spirit owner of the waters was imagined as a long-armed naked woman”
– Mihaly Hoppal on the shaman myths of the Siberian Altai region

Spirit woman we made for you an ovaa
of stones, dry branches and silken braid
here on the river bank where the water
quarrels with rocks, which you placate.

Inside the ovaa we laid horsehair, leaves,
kopeks and rags, shreds of our lives.

We shall make an offering before crossing
with our horses, for long and strong is your arm
at the singing bend of your spirit river
where waters shake and green reeds shine.

Your naked body is broad as the sun
that dips its face to kiss your skin.

Our journey will be long and hard
for harshness has entered our hearts,
but across your river is the burial mound
that holds the healing bones of hawk.

In our shaman’s cloak we stitched a feather
from the warrior crows to aid his flight.

Now the fire is lit for the sacrifice.
O spirit woman of the waters protect us –
the goat flesh splits and spits as the shaman
shapes the smoke with blooded feathers.

He chants to you with soul-bird cries
and flies across your body, an eagle.

In the slit between spirit and earth
he swoops, a giant bird to dip his beak
in your naked water-spirit flesh
and returns a stag, a wolf, a bear

to match your might as our horses pass,
O spirit woman of the waters protect us

ovaa: cairns of stone, or twigs tied up with silk and scraps of material

Journey to the Vast
after Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck

Having read and reread the book of stars
primed the controls
and calibrated the oxygen controls,
I put on the body-armour of white
the absurd boots
the see-through awkward mask.
I am having to do this not like
Gagarin with his meticulous team
in sunlit Kazakhstan
but out here alone.

Thank God for the ladder,
the one always clipped there
hanging like a mother’s breast
close to the side of the station.
We know its value
we who have used it.
Otherwise it’s oblivion,
drifting without control
like Major Tom.

I slide out
rung after rung into the abyss
and the oxygen uplifts me
with clear atoms of pumped air
as the Earth glows blue.
My suit cripples me so I crawl
like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me where eternity
begins or ends.

The air pipe snags and the sky
breaks red – I twist round and I am
blacking out and then
I sense the air pipe flooding
my blood again with life.

The mission is another story,
this walk is not a question of power.
I had to rehearse how
to turn my body without force,
swing, unsnag lines, and now
it is easy to forget
what I came for
recalling so many who have been
time travellers here like me
swaying their legs and tubes
beside the mothering ship
waiting suspended.

The instructions are incantations,
holy maps for survival.
I came to see the damage that was done
to this space station
so I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
and again forget the thing I came for
the fixing of what’s wrong and not
the horror of the event itself,
not the memory
of the drifted face staring
toward nothingness
toward the sun’s burning,
that evidence of damage
swayed in threadbare beauty,
the ribs of the broken craft
curving their assertion.

This is the place
and I am here, astronaut in armour.
I slow-spin a wrench in hand,
fix the panel, climb back
and dive into the hold.
I am she who alone saw whose face
floats eternal with open eyes,
knows the one undone by loss
of others who failed to make
the splashdown return
and left behind just
the water-eaten log of hope
behind the fouled masks.

We are, I am, we all
by ambition or courage
are the ones who dare rerun
this game
carrying a spanner, a camera,
a book of condolences
in which
new names appear.

Reflecting on a friend’s letter written on New Year’s Day, 2021

Both of us have been on hold.
You go walking only as far as the gate
and note the world through window frames.

In your letter a magpie is splashing in puddles
on the far side of the street. I imagine it, hear it.

You precise the staccato calls of pigeons
and the wild wail of seagulls swooping
from their roosts on the old reservoir

and I smile at you noting their graceful wings
white and pointy with a kink in the middle.

The magpie has built an enormous nest
high in the hornbeam opposite your house
and then tell me the sky is beautiful, again.

Christmas has been and gone but I picture
in my mind your house alight with candles

and this makes me wonder why I dress
my tree in old twisty wiry strands
of lights and tinsel I have struggled with

each Christmas now for thirty years
or is it more – I am losing track.

I see we both stayed awake to watch
the new year dawn a steely blue
and light up those bare apple branches

in my garden forewarning the coming of Spring.
I keep forgetting to write to you.


Berlin 1940
He shaved his beard that summer and removed the locks.
She asked was it too hot for beards. You know he said.
I do not recognise you, she said.
This is just the beginning.
No, she said, it is the end.
It is a matter of survival he said, and went to open the door.

Krakow 1942
She sees, again, the blur on the horizon, knows it is not fog,
feels its smell on her skin.
Is this the end or the beginning, she asks.
She keeps pointing it out
but others see nothing and say nothing.
You know, she said, it is hard to know what is and isn’t.

Birmingham 2015
He grew a beard that summer.
She thought it was too hot for beards.
I do not recognise you she said.
This is my beginning.
No, she said, it is your end.
Mine is not a question of survival, he said and closed the door.

Raqqa 2017
He sights along the horizon’s blur, hears the smoke,
feels bitterness enter his skin,
rage stalking the walls, the streets.
He points out shadows, smells flesh
but others see nothing and say nothing.
You know, he tells them, it’s hard to know who is and isn’t.

The letters


I am in the attic sorting boxes

and look here are grandfather’s photographs

deliciously sepia on gold-embossed grey card

a studio portrait of him neatly moustachioed 

the new director of a college in Kremenets

13 versts from the Polish border

but war with Germany crested sharp he writes

I escaped the onslaught just in time


the letter paper is cheap-thin the ink bleeding through

and I am thankful only one side was used

the Cyrillic script crabbed and scratched as if in haste

to tell his sister who kept these letters he was safe

and here she is a laughing girl by bearded brothers

resplendent in hunting capes complaining

of mosquitoes and the paucity of shelter

from icy rain belting like bullets


while they hauled the dripping carcass

onto the wooden cart the horses steaming

under the whip of the izvoschik huddled

in the heavy cap and cloak gifted him

by grandfather after buying himself

a fur lined leather greatcoat and better boots

and I watch them posing forever before

a future none could ever have imagined



In transit

with your trunkful of history
you wait for the ever questions
of what and who and why
while the border guard points
to a chained pen at the desk
and the hard field of words.

He watches you struggle to blacken
correctly the blanks on the form,
try to swallow your fear of the light
in his where you from? eyes while
his mates check out gender and dress

and judge your way of saying “I”
as if a permit lies in the curve of face
or fault of the tongue and mouth.
You see no open hands, ears or heart
but nudges at knuckle-fisted jokes.

Yet you must play at meek, unlock
your meagre life for their vetting
and speak the which words that matter,
hoping maybe this time this time
your feet will root in a safer place.


just look at what’s been tossed
if you walk along the shore’s
crunch line of the constant
       to and fro and scour of foam

where today I find a yellowed pencil
       rolling at the edge to and away
       to and away

its skin dulled and scraped
showing the bone
from the ceaseless grains
its point gone with the constant

and I throw it high behind rocks
let it dry and find peace
get the sun on its body

look – here are bifocals half-buried
staring up at split clouds
       and I know you would’ve laughed
but with the frames breaking
they look so
   lone    and bereft

I scrape the wet sand off the lenses
till the mass of clouds get blinded
       and my chest seizes
       for what has been lost

where are the means to undo deeds
wash this rank grit clean
       unmouth the tides with their deceiving babble
       and constant spill of red

next year will write itself green

the sea will release the many
trailing rainbows and
       the miscellany of things
       that spell home

Boggy Groun
“Boggy groun it wer and hevvy muck” - Riddley Walker

Much can be found in bog and muck,
silt from living things in one big sticky
deep where limbs lie strange to purpose
and jumbles of teeth spit no names.
A leather cheek grins at millennia.

Here is a blade off a digging pole
whose mistress arm was hacked
when Windeby girl was put to drown,
pale hair sheared like shivers of bird
to beautify the sacrifice.

Despised by the gods because of limp
Kayhausen Boy got hogtied with cloth
while the elders held him fast
for the sacrificial slash at the throat,
though it was clear
the afflicted child could not outrun
his history in the sphagnum bog.

A frail thin-faced creature
named just Yde Girl was dragged
too famished for struggling,
to be looped by her own girdle
round the passive pulse of her neck,
for rope was too good for the bog.

Old Croghan Man took the barrage of blades
in silence as his tongue flew out loud
to the crows flapping for spoils,
his left side forsaking his right as the axe
split him clean to the ground
to find eternity in heavy muck.

At Alken Enge a skulled dagger tells
how warriors resplendent with blood,
oath and sword sank in bog meadow,
their bones a tale remade by lads
falling in the sacrificial trenches
of Flanders, the Somme, Passchendaele.

The Crossing

I am in a boat but cannot recall
when or how I came.
A hooded woman is at the helm
or maybe I am alone,
I cannot see through
this thick air ringing in my ears.

At the far end of sky
the iced air keens
over the great Divide.
Its sound whips me cold
for it calls my name.
How black and wild is this water!

The night is changing as I watch.
The faint moon does not reflect
but slips sideways to the water
like a tired balloon.
It eyes me
and I hide my face.

Last evening we stood at the edge,
something in you dissolved,
you let go my hand
and entered the river.
You said you had to cross
and I must follow.

The keening spins ropes of air,
I sense a reek of loss, a shape
cut black on blackness,
a brush of wing at my cheek
and the great swan of Tuonela
sings out your name.



3  - Publishing History

BOGGY GROUN: Published in SaveAs ‘Post Apocalyptic’ anthology, 2020
IN TRANSIT: Published in Sentinel, 2017; ‘Here Comes LUNCH’, Poetry Kit, 2018

THE LETTERS Published in ARTEMIS poetry in 2022, in issue 29
FLOTSAM: Published in SaveAs ‘Horizons’ anthology, 2021
CODES OF BEING: Published in Shoah online journal, 2022; Poetry Space, 2017

THE LONG-ARMED WOMAN OF THE WATERS has been accepted for a forthcoming Dreamcatcher issue.


4 - Afterword

Email Poetry Kit - info@poetrykit.org    - if you would like to tell us what you think. 

We are looking for other poets to feature in this series, and are open to submissions.  Please send one poem and a short bio to - info@poetrykit.org