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!


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 – […]

Books Coming to Life


Quill pens scratch, feet shuffle,

voices read aloud in droning monotones –

noise reigns here,

where books are born.

Scribes with hedge-trimmed hair

scrape sheets of sheepskin parchment,

tasting its pearly glow

with sensitive fingertips.

Purposeful clutter crowds around –

jars of coloured ink with a hundred smells;

knives for trimming quills;

needles, thread, cover-leather.

A monk with nose so sharp

it nearly punches through his skin

strides up and down, back and forth,

keeping order.


fingers all stained red and blue and green,

take the pages full of graceful script,

surround words

with images, borders, curls so bright

it takes more than the eye to see them.

A hundred years from now

someone will hold a manuscript made here,

feel every life that touched it,

hear every voice

whose hand scrawled bored, laughing notes

in the margins.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

A Tribute to Piracy


First night aboard this ship,

the waves make me sick.

Still, we’re sailing

with you –

a woman people at home

always talk of with such tales,

I wonder how

you can be real.

‘The Sea-Queen of Connaught’, –

there’s one of the names

I’ve heard.

Yet, here on the water,

you’re simply ‘Captain Gràinne’

– that’s enough.

Dawn creeps

across the deck,

we dash into a cove,


Suddenly, there’s an excited hiss

from the crow’s-nest swaying high above

We leap out,

nipping at the English trader,

darting swift as swift.

Like the other powder-monkeys,

I must dash to keep the cannon loaded,

silently praying

not to drop a cannonball.

I can hardly hear or see

through the bangs and shouting,

the drifting smoke and flying splinters.

When quiet returns,

the trader’s mainmast

leans shakily, shattered,

her cargo trickling into our hold.

The English captain,

twitching with rage,

shouts from his deck,

cursing your name.

‘God damn you, Grace O’Malley,

into Hell!’

I look at you –

back straight and proud, hair flying,

eyes bright, hard, sad and strong.

No curse comes to my lips, only admiration

for our Pirate Queen!

Calm waters beneath, we’re sailing alone again,

yet the crew are cheering still:

Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol!’

But how can you be bald?

That silly nickname

makes no sense at all,

so I start giggling, stormy-wild.

Somehow you hear –

there you are before me!

‘What’s this, a bhuachaill, sassing your captain?’

But then you’re grinning,

and I know you’re just like me –

sassing everyone within reach.

– Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

Here’s another piece in what I like to call my “Moments in History” series. I’ve been fascinated by pirates, and the history and culture of piracy, for a long time, though I’m not quite sure how that fascination began. On a number of Hallowe’en’s I have in fact dressed in pirate costume, as a way to connect to their world – romanticized though my view of that world may be. And the greater the swashbuckling air generated by the costume, the better!

Gráinne Ní Mháille (a common English version of her name is Grace O’Malley) has been one of my favourite historical and legendary pirates for some time – partly because she successfully accomplished a number of things which were generally thought of as unacceptable activities for women in her country and time period, and partly because she is an Irish historical-legendary figure. As any of my friends will tell you, I have a keen interest in Irish myth and folklore. To learn a bit more about Gráinne, check out this article.)

I owe thanks to my good friend Cam Wachowich for generously assisting me with some of the Irish in this poem. Any grammatical errors are my own. Go raibh míle maith agat, a chara!

Writing the Blues

It was recently the birthday of Aigars Lapsa, a close friend of my family and a world-class blues photographer. To honour him and his passion for blues music and photography, I dedicate this original poem to him, as a birthday gift.


Smoke twines beneath the door,

heady and thick,

smelling of golden whisky and sweet dark rum.

Intricate dancing notes

sax and horn

wail, tease, intoxicate –

draw listeners into a dizzy swirl,

this dangerous improvisation.

Knees in long, damp coats

and knees in sparkling dresses

brush against each other

as tables shift and creak.

Ice cracks in a glass,

clean and clear, gunshot-sharp

against a whisper heavy with too much lipstick.

Here, glances are swift, sensual, careful at once,


over the walls without windows.

Spaces between tables

are full of too-close dancing and musky sweat.

Beneath the floorboards

the stills are busy,

squeezing exhiliration and abandon

into shining flasks.

Clack, clack, clack!

The door shakes with knocking,

the room freezes.

No one enters here

without a password.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Riga, Latvia, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

A little note on the genesis of this piece: When I think of Aigars, one of the first things that comes to mind is blues music. I wanted to write him something that centered around blues and jazz…but how to approach it? Then I thought, what kind of place might be improvisational, perhaps off the grid, and subject to its own laws, just like the blues? The first place which came to mind was a 1920’s Prohibition-era speakeasy. I decided that I would try to combine the two elements, and you see the result above.

For any fans of blues or photography (or both!), please feel free to take a look at Aigars’ website, which showcases his work: