Is It A Studio, or Art School?


This bunch of boys –

stick-figures of various ages –,

clustered, scattered, darting

across an artist’s studio,

all of them the Master’s apprentices, like me –

here is my new family.

Grinding pigments, mixing

with linseed oil –

better not break the bowl,

the Master won’t be happy

to lose so much fresh paint!

Still, can’t avoid

getting it all over my fingers.

Posing for the Master today.

Wish it was the adult model’s turn –

that man with curly chestnut hair

who sometimes drinks wine upstairs

with the Master in the evenings.

Can’t wait

to run run run in the street –

sitting still so long

is making me fidgety.

Making charcoal sketches

of an earlier sculpture

while the Master works on a new one,

calling comments over his shoulder –

“Take care with that line! Smudge the other corner a little more!”

How does he know?

Does he have a hundred eyes?

Still, I try,

holding the charcoal stick carefully.

I want to impress him.

It’s been so long

and wonderfully strange,

a few years here

have felt like days.

At last I’m allowed

to help finish

one of

the Master’s great paintings,

dabbing an angel into the corner.

I take a breath, bite my lip,

pick up one of the precious brushes…

Carefully, gently…time seems to stop

as features and feathers

form on the canvas.

There! Finished.


I hear the Master’s voice behind my shoulder –

Bravo, well done.”

Today, after the Master

watched me painting,

he told me there had been a guest, a patron,

who had watched too,

who wanted to see more of my craft.

Then the Master offered me

a glass of wine

and asked me to be a partner in his studio,

a working artist in my own right.

Sí, maestro – yes, I’ll do it.

How can I not,

after seeing the pride in your eyes?

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February 2015. Written in Dubai.

Back to one of my favourite historical periods and locations – Renaissance Italy. I find a lot to be curious about when it comes to l’Italia rinascimentale; one of those points of interest is the professional and personal relationship between working visual artists, like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci for example, and their apprentices. I’ll admit that I probably romanticise this particular topic, but still – fascinating stuff! Enjoy!



“Atgofion (Memories)” 

Wizard, warlock

Myrddin, Merlin

So many words and names for me,

one man…

So many tales of us together, Arthur,

yet I wonder how many

speak of the magician and the king

when we were young…

I am new at court,

my powers strong but not full-grown,

you’ve not yet come into your own.

We should be

master and servant –

instead we are the closest friends.

I believe

in the king you might be,

and you

trust the magic I might make.

It’s not always easy

being a prince’s consort

when most of Camelot thinks

you ought to have a queen.

My work is magic and healing,

I’m loyal to Camelot and you –

we try to make others’ doubt irrelevant.

Smiling, I listen

as the ceremony ends.

Guinevere, our friend, our heir,

is queen now.

Arthur, you and I

are free to go adventuring again.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright September 2011, October 2014. Written in Dubai.

A few years ago, when I told a friend that I was planning to write a series of poems based on the King Arthur stories, he suggested that I try to write a piece depicting Merlin and Arthur as young men. Since this seemed like a cool idea, I agreed I’d give it a try. What you see above is the result, which has gone through a few different versions.  The BBC television series Merlin was one of my inspirations, since it’s one of the few versions of the Arthur-Merlin tales  I’m aware of which depicts them in young adulthood.

(Note: “Atgofion” is Welsh for “memories” – a nod to Merlin and Arthur’s origins 🙂 )

Passing Through

“In Transit” 

World of the bizarre,

land of in-between,

burbling, rumbling coffee machines.

Surreal speed, swerve,

dash in a passenger cart

‘Look out! Look out!’

It’s the airport Formula One.

Moving from camp to camp in terminal-land,

each stretched-out shapeless hour

marked by new territory,

the wandering-quest

for a change of scene, a fresh discovery.

Stake out some chairs

with a bag and your bones,

watch in sleepy disbelief

as rain pools oddly on the floor.

You know the PA voice so intimately,

it might as well be

a friend of long standing.

Onward, then!

The next journey begins…

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright July, August 2014.

I did a lot of travelling this summer, and wrote the piece above during a 12-hour layover in an unfamiliar airport. I feel it does a reasonable job of expressing both the excitement and tedium you can experience when spending a lot of ‘transitional time’ in a place that’s fairly new to you, even if the country and language are old friends (as they were for me, in this case). Shoutout to my fellow TCKs and other travellers, who probably also know this feeling well!

Lost on Land, Safe at Sea


Waiting ashore for the moon to rise,

blood beating in his temples

like a tightened drum

She held him once through his silver skin,

he’s been on land too long.

An ache for salt water has driven his feet,

followed every step –

the eyes of his people far away,

the air too dry for breath.

Some in the land-world have been kind –

still, it was never the same

as swimming flipper to flipper,

ducking wave to wave.

Luck stands with him now,

dappled-gray skin, deeply himself,

lies around his shoulders again,

ready to let him swim.

Excited barks rise from the changing tide –

Come, brother, welcome home!

Now he’ll reply as his heart commands –

At last, at last, I come.


They’re coming, both over and under the waves,

sleek seal-people sliding to shore –

and ah! if you go with the selkie-folk now,

you’ll be of their home evermore.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright March, May 2014.


I’ve been interested in selkie tales for as long as I can remember. Supernatural folk who are seals underwater and humans on land, if they choose? Seems like a wonderful sort of life. Unfortunately, most of the stories I’ve encountered involve a selkie, usually female, being forced to stay on land against her will because her sealskin’s been stolen and hidden by a human. Many times we hear the story from the human’s persepctive, but sometimes from the selkie’s as well. Rarely though, at least in my experience has the selkie in question been male, and this poem wanted to give a male selkie the stage. Regardless of how the speaker identifies, however, I think that a longing for home can be experienced by anyone.

White Noise and Stars

“Radio Silence”

Static in the air,

white noise all around.

We try to talk,

but our voices

won’t cross

the radio silence between us.

Can’t out-shout the buzzing,

shall we

tune ourselves to a different frequency?

Tap, tap – a pair of tuning forks

humming in dissonance, harmony.

With luck, the notes we make

will broadcast clearly.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February, April 2014


When I wrote the first draft of this in February, I had recently finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It’s likely that some of the pensiveness, misanthropy and tendency to melodrama that I picked up on in that novel made their way into this piece. But to be fair, I can be melodramatic and thoughtful anyway. Misanthropic (or people-hating, if you prefer) as well, on my moody days. I did enjoy TFIOS,  especially since I found myself relating to the two protagonists more than once. And I like the idea of trying to create melodic harmony between people!

Wait A Minute, This Didn’t Happen In “The Avengers”…

“Loki’s Curtain Call”

Trickster god – that’s me indeed.

But I might as well be

the Fixer God –

it’s in my hands

to craft clever, devious solutions


something goes wrong in this place.

“Fix it, Loki!” for millennia…

and never with thanks.

I’ve had enough.

What if

I were to let it all go –

just give up Norse-Godding –

for, say, interior decorating?

I certainly possess

a useful flair,

and I wouldn’t even have to look far

for funky paints!

Want some wildly coloured walls,

disguised trapdoors for unwelcome guests,

spatters of madness

here and there?

Call me up.

Need a conversation piece,

Chaos bound in Ragnarök?

I’ll see to it.

(There could be minimal damage…)

Odin may roll his eye,

Freyja and Freyr may look disdainful and toss their golden-apple hair,

but the loss

would be entirely theirs.

Goodbye Asgard,

I’m off to start a business.

Though, for the sake of efficiency

(and one last farewell gesture),

I may take along that hammer of Thor’s…

Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February 2014.

One day I saw an ad for the Jotun paint company, and my mind decided to play word association, reminding me, “Hey, isn’t Loki sometimes referred to as part- jötunn (also known as part frost giant) in Scandinavian myths?”  I then had a conversation with a good friend, also a fan of Loki and Norse myths, about what might happen if the infamous god of gleefully getting everything into a mess decided to go in for interior decorating. The piece above is the eventual fruit of that conversation.

Less “Femme Fatale”, More Intriguing Human Being

“A Song for Lucrezia Borgia” / “Una canzone per Lucrezia Borgia” Lucrezia, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Your name sings and murmurs from the pages of my history books, set in a tapestry of popes, dukes, kings. How shall I understand you, who you are? Tiny curling vines spiral up from the printed words, thorny and bitter – […]

Spring Evening, Spring Memory


Black lace branches stand embraced

by gentle wings of colour.

Softly draped upon the sky


clear pale yellow,

intensely floating orange, lilac, lavender,

royal purple

brisk as a spring wind.

Above, the wings lie crowned with blue

pale as the sharp crisp air,

twined with smoke-dark, wandering threads.

One splayed tree-hand,

puffs of fine black filigree

at each curious fingertip,

reaches, catching

dissolving greysmoke.

Its neighbour is

calmer, simpler,

single branches gracefully draped

drawing a cool, sharp black shape,

stripped-down simplicity,

against the merging softnesses behind.

This is a limpid, perfect moment,

seen through spring evening eyes.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright 2007, 2013.

Sifting through files of older writing can be a surprising process. That’s how I came across this piece, originally written in Toronto, Canada in 2007 and re-worked this spring. It transports me to the evening which inspired it – bitingly cold yet incredibly clear-aired, with a colourful, arresting sunset.


“A Troubadour’s Dream”

I stand half-floating                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              in a field of purple heather,

beyond a hill beside me lies the sea.

Smells of seaweed, salt and honey

swirl in the air, pungent, sharp, sweet.

A woman appears, walking slowly,

purple blooms untouched beneath her feet.

In her cupped hands

she carries

a living, licking flame.

Her smile

brushes my mind –

here comes Brighid, goddess bright,

lady of smithcraft, wordcraft, fire.

Her shifting eyes, a thousand colours and none,

meet mine

My spirit cannot help but speak.

I feel words bubbling from my heart,

streaming from everywhere into me,

and I must tell…but purpose

is like a foggy mirror…

Brighid’s hand lies gently on my forehead,

presses fire into my skin,

draws out shining new flames.

Her ringing singing voice

speaks inside me:

This rises from you – by your fire you live

Seek the stories for telling,

sing them loudly over the hills

Burn away your fears with a poet’s flame,

a troubadour’s song.

Your task is to tell, and share, and shape

until pockets of puckering, fearful, poisonous silence

turn bright and hopeful

with the sparks of your eyes.

Her touch warms me

and I know, waking,

that the fire will keep me strong

when my feet stumble.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright August & September 2013.

This is my attempt to offer a reply to “Why do you write?” It’s a question I’ve heard a number of times, and never found easy to answer, because boiling the answer down into a few simple words can be a tricky thing – usually, what you get from me is either silence, or a tangled, involved explanation. No doubt other writers of many kinds are asked this as well. For me it’s something I need to do to purge intense emotions, deal with a crazy world – or, sometimes, just play with interesting sounds.

Whisky, uisge beatha , water of life

“After Auchentoshan”

Chug-a-chug-a, chug-a-chug-a

rattling into the hills

on a small train

green grey brown flash past,

bridges and sheep flicker

in the corners of your eyes.

It’s been a day of big oak barrels, gleaming copper,

cool underground smells, heady fumes.

A bottle of dark gold

whisky uisge beatha water of life

nestles like a curled-up story in your bag,

waiting for dark after-supper time

when hot-coal colours flicker in the fireplace,

familiar well-loved voices warm the air,

talk is long and slow,

hummed notes distill

into bright rich song.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Glasgow and Dubai, copyright August 2013.

Auchentoshan is the name of a whisky distillery near Glasgow, which I toured on my recent visit to Scotland (more about the trip in this post). Part of my reason for going to the distillery was research for a translation project I’m currently working on, and the other part was sheer curiosity. Definitely an intense place – I think I’m beginning to understand why whisky has the potential to fascinate people so much. Slàinte!