'Lines Written Among The Rùm Cuillin Hills' & 'Edinburgh Ecstasies': Two Poems by Clay F. Johnson

Updated: Mar 28, 2020


Ere Babylon was dust,

The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,

Met his own image walking in the garden.

—Percy Bysshe Shelley

Her letters hold autumn-pleasant secrets,

Thoughts of cooling air warmly remembered—

The remembrance of pastoral shadows

Paints the portraiture of her own twilight,

Captured in mist-walks within her gardens

Rich with spirits of amethyst & owl-light

She told me I met her there in her dreams

Where she buried star-clouds of electricity

But she is not all shadow-seeking strangeness,

Not always brooding Scotland’s delicious glooms,

For her distant charms seek Spencer’s Faerie Queene

Read aloud in Rickman’s baritone notes—

Voices of idle-aching ecstasy

Softening his minor-key memories

She gave me her cold-whispering bloodstone

When thoughts of his death poisoned sensibility

Sought in her electrified letters

Are Wolfe’s sleep-paralyzed lyrics―gnomic shapes

Her effortless keys trace on Folklore Thursdays:

May the magic of treasure-seeking hedgehogs

Find wondrous roots of misshaped raskovnik,

Unlocking a natural philosophy

Toward her gardens where she once buried me

Her gardens exist within mists of Trollabhal

Where shadows grow & creep and live & dream

Walking mist-touched atop her storm gardens

I meet a shape of shadow, a familiar face:

It smiles at me, it murmurs mysteries—

I know this spirit, it reflects no amethyst,

It is not of lightning, nor of twilight,

Yet, like the love from my beloved witch,—

The one whose magic is the Scotch mist—

I breathe in its voice like cold influence,

Sweet as poison taken from a lover’s lips

Like a kiss of Tartarean luxury,

And, in a phantasm of voiceless ecstasy,

I become the apparition I came to seek.



We know what we are,

But know not what we may be.

—Shakespeare, Hamlet

My gin-burnt tongue, singing sweetly

In stinging ecstasies, floral-drunk botanicals,

Distills sick whisperings lingering

Like posthumous poetry, puissant

Potions of unimagined potency,

Delirium-rich sick I see talking

Top hats taking sips from teacups

Filled with jolly botanist alchemy

In my gin-soaked phantasy,—lush

With visions & violets purpled by

Grave-plucked Iris, tentacled orrisroot,

Moths-bane mugwort, creeping thistle

And the abortifacient leaves

Of bog-myrtle—She appeared: the mistress

Of my undreamt madness, Moray

Aristocrat with breath of winter-sexed Earl Grey

Her skin was tainted by moonlight, night-sick,

Lucent like haunted glass, a corpse-charm

Of witch-silver, pale with incurable

Moon-cancer—but I felt a sick desire,

A voice with a cure, it whispered

To tear off her skin, not in screaming

Pieces with my teeth, but a one-piece peel

Like ripping a wetsuit from her perfect bones

Then a new voice spoke, born in secret

Inner thoughts, a madness of spirits

Voicing its voiceless alchemy,

Enlightening me with sage advice:

To cure her true, you must absorb her,

You must become her, you must be her—

You must wear her freshly-peeled flesh,

You must take her cancer, you must consume her

I followed her into the quiet night,

My head full of voices—gin-crazed—

I touched her skin of night-sickness

By the gated gardens of the Crescent,

Kissed her Paris green lips on Moray Place—

Just outside her posh estate—

She let me in—She let me in

I took a fragrant cup of her Earl Grey—

I breathed in its scented sweet—I swallowed

Its boiling heat—it touched my lips

Like unrequited sleep—it was

Opium to my madness—my voices

Dissolved quietly like ecstasies

Into bubbling silence of new alchemy

I struggled in vain against her

Sleep-tinctured oils of cold-pressed bergamot—

Slow-folded, Sicilian sfumatura

Liquid citrine, Venetian glass—

Her Morphean charm that lay in wait

Upon her Satan-sexed lips,

Patient for my desire & gin-sick kiss

My sleep-dissolved eyes awakened

Amidst gilt-bronze curiosities,

Objet de vertu, Louis XV

Rocaille & antique Florentine,

Haughty portraiture from the House

Of The Young Chevalier, Bonnie Charlie,

Fire-singed fragments of Alfieri

And unfinished oil-originals

Of the fair-eyed & unrevenged

Daughter of the incestuous-sick Cenci

But in this room of rich opulence

Hid the design of her sick secrets:

Skin-stitched rotting dolls, oddly posed,

Decaying mannequins with dead faces,

Ever-watchful eyes, lidless, wrinkled smiles

From withered lips, rotten teeth yellowed

By sugared decadence & Earl Grey,

Draped in macabre sheets of leathery skin

I then met her cold gaze, unhaunted

As if she were mistress of her own ghosts,

And, somehow, it reflected voices

I once obeyed when influenced

By desires of stinging ecstasies,

By deliriums of gin-sickness,

Whispering madness ever-lingering

Like witchcraft within bubbling alchemies—

Her insouciant eyes unclothed my horror,

And with a voice of well-to-do Devil, she said:

So fervently I mused upon

Your starlight-burns & dark-freckled demasks,

Your shapes of beauty, your sun-cancered flesh—

You, my dear boy, are my perfect fabric

For a handbag, a pair of garden gloves,

Or perhaps a charming new dress.


Clay F. Johnson is an amateur pianist, devoted animal lover, and incorrigible reader of Gothic literature and Romantic-era poetry. His writing has been featured in the Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase, nominated for a Rhysling Award & Pushcart Prize, and recently received an honorable mention in The Best Horror of the Year. Find out more on his website at www.clayfjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @ClayFJohnson.

The first photograph of the Scottish Highlands, was taken by Clay F. Johnson in 2019.

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