Penny Busetto

On Writing at the Centre for the Book

Dignity, harmony, tradition
enclosed trapped spaces
The burden of history.

The tastelessness of plaster fruit
austere silence of the soul.
Dignity, harmony, tradition.

Circles within circles within circles
bound by a heavy chain bearing
the burden of history.

Words like dust mites in a shaft of light
swirl in flurries of outrageous frenzy.
No dignity, harmony, tradition.

Discipline breeding boredom
or the spasm of orgasm?
Dignity, harmony, tradition.
The burden of history.

Penny Busetto


After nine full months of waiting
– from the moment of their shared joy –
warm wetness trickles between her thighs.
The time has come.
“Dearest,” she whispers, “Ci siamo.”
Ci siamo, ci siamo, we’re there.
“What?” he mumbles in the dark.
“Ci siamo. Ci siamo. We’re there.”

A shift in his voice,
in my world.
“You mean you’re there.”

Penny Busetto


The Karoo stretches vast and empty
Trapping my thoughts in contemplation
Shadows across immensity

The beast heaves in mud so mightily
Last breath shudders and grows thin
The Karoo stretches vast and empty

Bones caught in death without dignity
In the battle with time you cannot win
Shadows across immensity

Here a skull and there a knee
Scattered ribs and toes  and skin.
The Karoo stretches vast and empty

Life and hope gone without pity
Only brightness left in horrid exultation
Shadows across immensity

Grey bushes and plains to infinity
Escape no longer from this prison
The Karoo stretches vast and empty
Shadows across immensity

Penny Busetto

The Weapon Salve

She can see the house now in the first grey light of dawn. She grew up here, spent so many years of her childhood here. It stands imposing, tall and forbidding. She walks around the side, unwilling to climb the steps to the front door, like a stranger, unwanted, unwelcome. The garden opens out at the back to vistas and statues, dropping to a small lake in the distance. In her mind she hears the tinkling of ice in crystal glasses, the laughter of women.

She opens the back door. The dogs, still asleep in their baskets take no notice of her, as if she has no substance to stimulate their senses into awakening. She walks past them into the house. She hesitates for a moment, uncertain whether or not to climb the broad wooden staircase to her old bedroom, but then decides to cross the hallway to her father’s study.

Red brocade and leather, it smells of cigar smoke, musty books and self importance. The trappings of a wealthy man. She switches on a desk lamp and sits down in her father’s chair. She finds herself adopting his posture, elbows on desk, and quickly corrects herself. She slouches back and looks around. Where could it be, she wonders. She scans the book shelves covering the whole wall behind her, but it is not there. She pulls open a drawer on her left and breathes deeply. Here it is.

Old, precious, bound in vellum, the pages are heavy parchment, brown with age. She goes straight to the back of the book, to the section on remedies. She pages past a cure for “Ye Griping of ye Guts”, past a concoction against “The King’s Evil”, until she finds what she is looking for: “The Weapon Salve”. She knew it was there.

She tucks the book under her arm and makes her way back through the darkened house. On a whim she walks down the three steps that drop below the staircase and pushes open the door.

The child looks up at her from the dark room and puts a finger on her lips, telling her to be quiet. Then she beckons her to follow. Suddenly she knows this place; a dormitory, beds in a row, women lying silently in rows. Bars on the windows. Moonlight shining through.

She steps back quickly and closes the door. The child stays locked inside.

She goes to the landing and looks out of the tall windows. She sees a middle aged woman below her in the cobbled driveway. The woman looks up at the house, then turns her back and walks away.

It is dusk as she walks away from the house. All dead, all gone, she thinks. But the book, she has the book. The weapon salve, to heal the wounds.

The Weapon Salve – an envoi of sorts

Take a raven’s eye, and a piece of the liver of a man who has been hanged. Place them on a piece of rusty bacon and leave them in the sun for a few days. Rub the grease that drips therefrom into the wound morning and night.

I’m going to keep going
Put my finger on the sore place
Scratching, scratching, niggling
till it hurts

Battle, war, wounds self-inflicted
The reek of dust and blood and gore
of cannon smoke and terrified horses
The charnel smell of death

The weapon salve
to soften and heal
Gently, gently now spread it
onto the cuts and bruises

Smooth it in so that it penetrates
under the skin
Deep into the flesh
The wounded flesh

Penny Busetto

Going underground

Let the undertow carry you, drag
you down, unseen, into spaces you do not
know by day, places which your mind cannot
imagine.  Go underground where the dark things
creep, where all that is hidden, all that hides
itself, all that is 

unspoken, unspeakable, waits,
a potentiality. There, there,
comes the transformation, the chrysalis

split, the change of rhythm.  Go underground into
the place of the maggot, the changeling, the place
of dark horror and there put

your feet  against the wall of the earthless
floor and kick  and kick and come out
flying into the starlit night.  Go

underground out of the light to jagged damp
places of mud and filth and base elements.  You have
to start with the elements, becoming something else

altogether. Go underground where the past
has returned to dust. Skulls bones, a discarded
cradle, abandoned dreams.  The sludge of history

returning to the surface.   

Penny Busetto

Albert Whelans’s Tale

Well, you know Father, it could’ve all ended up different like. You know, I could’ve jus’ come down there, left the Missus upstairs, and beaten ’em up. You know, would’ve been dead easy. Small lads they were, I mean, look at ’ow scared they was of Winifred. If I’d ha’ come down they’d ha’ jus run. But you know, I was getting tired of all her nagging – on an’ on she goes, day in, day out, Albert do this, Albert do that – so when she ’ears the noises downstairs, I sez to meself, I sez, Albert let ’er go. There ain’t nothin’ there, she’s jes ’earin’ things again. Let ’er get cold feet this time.

So I lays there in me bed and pretends I’m snoring, and I ’ears ’er get up and go downstairs. And I turns over, ready to go back to sleep, when bang, smash, all ’ell breaks loose.

What did I do then? You know Father, it’s strange. I should’ve jus gone on sleepin’  – let ’er sort it out. But no. What did I do? I leapt out of me bed and raced downstairs. There I sees the Missus facing this burglar. She’s got this huge bleedin’ carving knife in ’er ’and, and  she’s threatening to slice open ’is belly! And she sez to me, Albert, she sez, be a good lad then, grab the other one by the scruff of ’is neck.