Mortumus Mortum by Oliver Smith


In his room, young Jack lies sleepless under eiderdown.
Beneath his bed he keeps a clown hidden from his Ma.
Just the severed head pickled inside a green glass jar.

The clown grimaces, invokes dreams within his skull;
smirks, white-as-death, bewigged, and quite unseelie;
gurns all night as clownish thoughts pass through the room

Escapees  from the ancient circus all come creeping.
Their painted lips spread broad; things pocked and pored;
laughing, pleading, howling with delight, or weeping, 

 “Come in! half weird-fruit, half lobster, half octopus
half insane dancer, half anemone, half lemon skin.”
Behind grey cobwebs, a cadaver, with a rictus, grins.

A hundred scuttling spiders swim through the midnight air.
On sagging skin fades coloured grease and rising
darkness  overflows  the clownish paint,

clouded eyes roll from dead lids, glow-worm stares; 
luminous maggots writhe in shrivelled cheeks; 
purpled lips roll back and the clownish head opens

wide its mouth, filled with  a thousand-steel pins
for teeth. The house wakes from their dreams
alarmed by Jack’s unearthly screams.


Oliver 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 appeared in Abyss & Apex, Liminality, Rivet, Strange Horizons, and Sylvia Magazine. His poem, “Better Living through Witchcraft”, was awarded First Place in the BSFS 2019 competition. “Lost Palace, Lighted Tracks”, which appeared in Eye to the Telescope 32, was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. In 2020, Oliver was awarded a PhD in Literary and Critical Studies by the University of Gloucestershire. His website is at

Published 10/28/21

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