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Dancers and Drowners

Dancers and Drowners
By Oliver Smith

Between the moonlit sand and sea, ghosts dance
like glass-eels swimming in clear, deep waters,
like whispers, like distant, glimmering stars

that fall as fading cinders, as the last
fire is extinguished upon homely-shores.
Between the moonlit sand and sea, ghosts dance

with shrouded faces. Our lamp’s light is cast
upon these strangers, but only dim features
like whispers, like distant glimmering stars

recall the beloved who crossed into the dark.
Yet we come still to remember lost futures
between the moonlit sand and sea. Ghosts dance

among the shrimp and anemone, masked
by weed and sand and time. Those voyagers
like whispers, like distant glimmering stars

ignite, burn, and fade again. Do not ask
the strangers on the dark strand who they are.
Between the moonlit sand and sea, ghosts dance
like whispers, like distant glimmering stars.

* * *

Oliver Smith is inspired by the landscapes of Max Ernst, by frenzied rocks towering in the air above the silent swamp, by the strange poetry of machines, by something hidden in the nothing. His poetry has been published in ‘Abyss & Apex’, ‘Bleed Error’, ‘Ink, Sweat, and Tears’, ‘Strange Horizons’ and ‘Sylvia Magazine’ and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2020 Oliver was awarded a PhD in Literary and Critical Studies by the University of Gloucestershire for his thesis ‘Empty your Eyes and Bite the Star: Fragments, Entropy, Confabulation, and Structure in Cut-up Methods’. (website)

On "Dancers and Drowners"
I see the ghosts in the poem as beings distanced from us by death, by time, by space. They were once presences but have become absences and it is these absences we feel; the empty spaces they have left behind.

I like the villanelle as a form and get quite carried away by the formal challenge. This one evolved from a short piece of cut-up poetry and developed quite an elegiac mood; unusually for my villanelles the refrains are unvaried. See also ‘Séance’ in ‘The Horror Zine’, October 2022 and ‘Evocatus’ in ‘Eye to the Telescope 44’.