Rhiannon Williams writes about the beauty, decay and conflict encountered on the island of Cyprus. Having lived there for eight years, she is passionate about the island’s future.
Her poetry collection Desire Lines on the Island of Cyprus explores interactions between islanders and their land, and how stories are told through both geography and ways of life. The poems are plotted on a map of the island according to the location they concern, and connected using different thematic ‘routes’ through the collection.
She has been shortlisted for both the National Poetry Prize and the Bridport Prize, and currently studies MA Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins in London.
At the back of the monastery are the solid prayers of waxworks,
made by those who can’t use priesthood or paint.
Models of single injured limbs lean on the wall like liquorice sticks,
parts sat in rows like wares, knobbled fingers and supple noses,
the uneven mounds of two breasts, a head.
Effigies of whole babies in ochre wax lie mollusclike
on the flagstones. I breathe in their musky fatty smell
and wonder if wax magic works, and can heal.
A huge Saint Mary dominates, the paint carob dark and primitive,
her shrouded curve familiar. She looks older and sadder,
her eyes almond-shaped and underscored. I might admit
that she scares me more than the crude ancient saints
surrounding us, the dark threat of their paint coating the walls.
Some have white, scribbled voids instead of eyes,
scars from the islands’ invasion: a sharp-tooled overwriting.
Still, the islanders bring their wax before blind saints,
in the hope that wounds can smooth over and seal.
They told me I was not allowed
to take anything back to the other side.
It didn’t seem like a site of cruelty,
a place of bad memories. Piles of stone
and an old wooden chair outside, left with
a froth of curling wicker tongues.
The air felt soft, like leaf mould.
The four walls of my grandmothers shack,
propping each other up like old women
who remembered too much, begged me
to promise I’d be back for them another day.
A thin chicken pecked a dead-plant lattice,
the flat, trampled foil of age, or of heavy boots-
“There,” said mum, “is where she used to
hang the radio from the tree, while she sewed.”
and into the pockets of my shorts I snuck
a rock, a small pine cone, the fuzzy cat’s-ear
of an almond’s outer shell, a piece of straw.
I sweated through border control,
thumbs stroking the pieces of land I’d reclaimed.
All photographs courtesy of the author.