John Morgan

“Take the Witches’ Path out” is a kind of memento mori infused poem, that shares coincidental geometries and spatialisation – and its own dark obsessions (chromatically subverted) – with the third painting in Damian Hirst’s triptych “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth” (2008), from his No Love Lost: Blue Paintings collection (2009). Hirst’s painting depicts a human skull and the skeleton of what appears to be a shark’s open jaws. Faint angular lines trace desire paths that draw the viewers’ gaze, suggesting pathways through which the swimmer may pass, to escape or to capture – all the while knowing that any such liberty is only fleeting.

“Take the Witches’ Path out” in itself is based on a three card tarot reading, in situ, to ascertain the fortunes of two prisoners who escaped from San Marino’s jail in August 2018. Its eccentric layout starts in the middle: the Centro Storico, San Marino’s old mountain-top city centre and location of its jail. The prison is a small collection of cells in a wing of the Capuchin Monastery, just outside the city walls. We witnessed the roadblocks, dawn paraglider and helicopter reconnaissance missions and the barking of police dogs through the night in their efforts to stop the prisoners crossing into Italy. Through scant news reports online we found out that these were the only two prisoners currently held in the jail.

The questions and tarot readings are set in Aubrey and the verse text is set in Sans Forgetica, a new Creative Commons font developed by RMIT in Australia, which has proved to aid memory when reading, through the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t spaces placed in the characters. The font was chosen for “Take the Witches’ Path out” to follow the movements of the seemingly invisible prisoners and our own recurrent sightings of the same guards along Passo delle Streghe, the forested, cliff-top “Witches’ Path” between two of the three towers of central San Marino. Darker, more esoteric and mythopoeic practices are also referred to from The Dictionary of the Khazars (1989) by Milorad Pavić. All colours are extracted from photographs taken between the towers and the colours of the card readings are “quoted” from the ‘La Corte dei Tarocchi’ by Anna Maria D’Onofrio.

D’Onofrio, Anna Maria, ‘La Corte dei Tarocchi’ [Tarot cards] (Milano: Il Meneghello, 1999)
Hirst, Damien, No Love Lost: Blue Paintings (London: Other Criteria, 2009)
Hirst, Damien, ‘The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth’ [Oil on canvas] At: (, 2008)
Pavić, Milorad, The Dictionary of the Khazars (New York: Vintage International, 1989)
Sans Forgetica is available under Creative Commons CCBYNC licence from

John Morgan’s poems offer a visual engagement with real, imagined or received experience of landscape, place, identity and myth. His writing often responds in situ to the works of other writers and artists, as well as to the land itself and how it receives and ‘writes’ the identity of the person moving through it. His poems have appeared in a glimpse of, The Learned Pig and Reliquiae, but are mostly published on his own website, Visual

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