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Songs of the Romani Road

Linda Marshall

© Linda Marshall 26/09/2017


Memories of the Road

My wandering heart


Making Camp

My Race

Honesty matters

Brigaki djilia

The Vanishing Road

The shoes of our Roma owners

The Porajmos

A Family Story

The Last Survivors

Straw Birth



Memories of the Road

Do you remember the old days,

When we ranged across the land,

The patrin our guide out of the maze

Of a world made by gauji hands?

We sang our songs of joy and sorrow,

We sang our songs of love;

We took no thought of the morrow,

Eternally on the move.

We drank and fought each other,

As people always will,

Yet we kept the law of the brothers

Through the days of heat and chill.

We laughed and loved with our ladies,

And mocked at the gorger ways;

We cursed them all to Hades,

And we loved our peaceful days.

Along the road we travelled

With our vardos and our grys,

While the gadje world unravelled

We held freedom as our prize.

We rockered the Romani tongue:

We lived as well as we could;

We were so happy when we were young,

And the world around us was good.

Do you remember the old times,

When we kept the brothers' law?

Now the old ways are just new crimes

And they're banned for evermore.

We sang our songs and lived our lives

Up to the full back then;

On the free Rom the gauji set eyes

And drove us into a pen.

Our roving time is gone,

Just a dream of happier days;

With a doleful orison

I sing their praise

My wandering heart

My wandering heart

Over seas, across mountains,

Among green valleys or darkened woods

I trace my footsteps,

Guided by sun and moon and stars

Like a snail, I carry my home about

And with my dreams and songs of love

I am ready to face the world:

Like the earth itself, I am always in rotation

Even in dreams I set off on my wanderings

Across the planet, my soul lightly flying through air

As the astral and visible worlds unfold before me,

And like a ship I sail uncharted oceans

The world calls me to travel,

My feet dragged on as if magnetism or gravity

Summoned them, and in this perpetual motion

My wandering heart is filled with continual life

To be truly free

I must be abri


here it is, he said,

a dense forest,

dikk, akai,

amaro atchin-tan

the leaves shone

even in the darkness,

and a stream flowed

so we made camp,

parked up our caravans

and made a yog

to keep us warm

and cook our scran and chao

the temple of the trees

gave shade and shelter

around the burning yog

we sang and danced

one drew the music of angels

out of his lavuta,

another struck the chords

of baxt on his guitar,

one played brigaki djilia on his flute

and we made a meal over the yog

the ruppeny shon

cast her shining light

upon us then

afterwards we slept

as dawn rose in the sky above

we buried the embers of our yog,

moved on to jaul the drom,

another atchin-tan ahead of us

Making camp

against the night sky the snow on the mountains glistens on the procession

wending its way past the sleepy fronds of fern, the hushed stillness of branches and

leaves and bushes, pregnant with fruit no longer, the vanishing berries all gone,

and we draw up our metal homes, a stopping place at last after the long road,

evading the watchful eyes of the sentinels of authority.

their clockwork world is geometrical, precise and full of rules and forbiddings while to us night offers at least temporary freedom.

when the dawn comes and sunshine paints our caravans with its golden rays, our painted wilderness is full of the babble of voices, of singing, the smell of cooking, mechanical activity as we build and carve our little treasures and over the lonely flesh of the grass our living footsteps walk and dance

from a convenient stream we draw water, wash ourselves, and heat our kettles and pots over the fire we've built

then in late afternoon, our presence is discovered, bullets of banishment are

hurled in our direction: though the way to the sea is always open here, as so often, we are not welcome.

in this point-instant of space and time all our centuries, millennia of wandering,

summed up yet again by the pointing finger as once again we must retreat from our

camp like the moving waves slowly receding from the shore

My race

too often I have found

the throats of some foaming with hatred

while mine is choked with tears

why do you fear me?

why does the colour of my brown skin

turn me into a monster in your eyes?

what is it you hate about me?

why do you blame me

simply for being born?

you say you believe in God,

call yourself a Christian:

so do I

I wonder if I took you in my arms

and nuzzled you against me with my warmth

if that would shake away the leaves of hate

or would it seem to you

as if you'd just embraced a corpse,

a disgusting act of necrophilia?

no, I think you would simply push me away,

recoiling in imaginary pain

as if I was the fire in which you burnt your hand

to you, I’m a sin, almost a crime,

a walking affront to your alabaster preferences,

a smouldering flame of darkness

you live in an imaginary freedom

where nothing of the outside world

touches you

you vaguely know such things as sewers exist

but have nothing to do with them

beyond occasionally calling in my sort as plumbers

"Paki!' you sometimes call me, or at other

times it's 'gyppo!' you yell in my face,

and yet you claim that words can never hurt

as for my husband, he is white,

and when we are seen together by you

'wog lover!' or 'gyppo lover!' you hiss at him

and it's not just the skin:

in pubs and restaurants the signs are everywhere:

'no travellers allowed'

so for you the defining fact of life

is race, skin colour, ethnicity, whatever

separates me from you in your mind

there's a race to the bottom,

a race to the river bank for lemmings,

a race against time

there's a race to arrive and a race to leave,

a rat race and probably a cat race,

and of course the human race

like it or not, pal, you and me both

belong to the same human race;

why should we hate and fear each other

when we should see ourselves as sister and brother?

Honesty matters

Honesty matters:

when you try so hard

ripping the tears away from your eyes

tearing your tongue out by the roots

trying to reflect on distorted images

preconceptions and misconceptions

miscarrying thoughts never arriving at the conception

the innocence of childhood faded away

into another empty frustrating day

and when your very soul is charred

by the fires of unjust hate and vicious lies

and people pretend cacophony is the melody of flutes

and the best you can do is try to limit the damages

of the mockers and scoffers

the cockamamy bluffers

the sellers of sheka and khul

expecting you forever to drool

at the cyanide pills they give

hoping they've numbed you enough

that you'll have forgotten how to live

and, instead, like a snake you'll slough

your skin of sincerity, become an apostate

and join the merchants of hate,

the purveyors of nightmares

wanting dynamite there

instead of a living human heart

that long ago they bade depart

now I lie in a bed, dreaming

of fountains of light forever streaming,

the tranquillity of emotion recollected

rather than a lab rat, dissected

into component elements

to hurry me into my cerements

the leaves will soon begin to flutter

on to the earth in their insistent mutter

that even hate is only temporary

an illusory current in life's ferry

so much is needlessly lost

so much unnecessary frost

spangled on hearts within which warmth should dwell

but yet too many prefer to toll the bell

rather than to be told

most of us have a heart inside, not cold

but blazing with a longing to be kind

so why do haters see us in confined

boxes of prejudice, a murky smudge

that, in their arrogance, they presume to judge?

Brigaki djilia

It isn’t only blacks who sing the blues:

Our fiddle plays notes that escaped even from Auschwitz,

Our castanets clang like church bells tolling for the dead;

When Miles Davis heard our pungent brass

He said ‘I didn’t know a trumpet could sound like that.’

We, always ourselves,

Sing and dance and play

With the rhythm of life;

Centuries of suffering

Etched into our bones and hearts

Our tears, our memories,

Each one of us a maker of music,

Spawning beauty

Out of our endless struggles

The gypsy’s restlessness

It is time for me to shift,

Go to the countryside,

With the swallow and swift

I'll be satisfied.

It's time to smell the flowers,

Pick the mushrooms and herbs,

Spend carefree hours

Where none disturbs;

The peace of the wooded glades

And the quiet parades

Of nature in all its glory,

Telling its rich story.

The call of the road is driving me

Beyond the town I've left;

What lies beyond the skies I see?

Should I take the right or left

Fork in the road that draws me on

With the Sun and Moon my guide?

I follow where their light has shone

With my cheerful tramping stride.

The voice that calls me is of earth

And yet the stars above;

A restless spirit gave me birth,

And, though I'm blessed by love,

My heart is pulled beyond the road

To where all pathways end;

And though I bear a heavy load

All nature is my friend.

Yonder, beyond a horizon point

I sense the glittering stars;

Their light will never disappoint,

Unlike the rich bazaars

Of town and city where the fog

Of wealth outspreads its hands

If you'll only be for their wheel a cog

And answer all their demands.

But the road is calling me,

The Sun will light my way

And when it sinks at close of day

The Moon will shadow me.

It is time for me to shift,

Go to the countryside;

With the swallow and the swift

I'll be satisfied.

The gypsy girl’s lament for life in the town

Here, in the bustling city,

I fret and cry all day;

my duty, more's the pity,

won't let me come away

I long for the open fields;

my heart is aching to hear

the music nature yields

to those who tune their ear

I long to breathe the woodland air

and smell the scent of leaves and flowers,

the wind swirling through my long hair,

the rain serving as my shower

I'd make my bed in the heather,

the birds my wake-up call,

snug in freedom whatever the weather,

joyous among it all

the sun would stream on my dark face

with its rays of golden light;

we'd need no house in this happy place

where our hearts are always bright

free from our chains, so wild and free

we'd roam through lands in unabashed joy,

revel in nature's jamboree,

a gypsy girl with her darling boy

my heart is aching: in my blood

I feel the road call out to me,

long to be trudging through the mud

with the wind and rain my eau-de-vie

I have grown weary of the towns,

long for the journey to who knows where,

across the hills, across the downs,

to a place where freedom's lamp still glares

here, in the bustling city,

I fret and cry all day;

my duty, more's the pity,

won't let me move away

An Elegy for Dale Farm

How sad this place is now,

This ravaged corner of once living land

Where we once sheltered under the brow

Of homes we'd built with our own yearning hands.

Now we are thrown

Out of our dwellings, driven to despair

As yet again they force us to atone

For the crime of ever having dared to be there.

I gaze upon the ruined site,

While all around the desolation cries;

All vain our valiant fight

For justice against tyranny and lies.

How dead and loveless is this once loved place,

Awash with life and children's busy feet!

All gone the warm and welcoming embrace

As yet again the travellers must retreat.

Warm life embraced this cold and dismal place

And only tears now irrigate the ground;

Of all the travellers' homes there's not a trace,

Like foxes gone to earth, fleeing the hounds.

Oh bitter tears! Oh, we can testify

To all the love and laughter that once dwelt

Within these homes; no one can justify

The senseless slaughter that the haters dealt.

So yet again another song of hate

Has triumphed over kindness and its notes;

Another dream destroyed! Ah, far too late

You'll miss the music stifled in the throats

Of those who lived here once and did no harm,

The vanquished hero folk of Dale Farm.

The Vanishing Road


we walked along a street we did not know,

hearing the mocking laughter of pursuit

ring in our ears, feeling the hunger gnaw

away inside, though wrapped up in the sheet

of love surrounding us, we shivered,

as everywhere we felt the coldness settle,

and both our living voices harshly quavered

at the assault of those to whom we're cattle,

and the clouds above us seemed like predatory wings

of mythical monsters out to work us harm,

and though we felt their claws like chains or thongs

seek to restrain us, somehow we stood firm

until the nightmare caught us in its spell,

and wound us in with its unending spool


we found ourselves outside the known parameters

of time and space; the Thames, the Mississippi,

vanishing along with Earth's perimeters

into a void where no one could be happy,

till somehow through the wormhole we emerged

to see the ghosts of those long dead staring

into our own blank faces; eyes enlarged

as if on drugs, we felt the constant steering

of our unwilling selves towards some end

beyond our comprehension. Then, eyes agape,

we saw ourselves in a dreadful sarabande

dance at the end of the executioner's rope

while round us others dangled from the gallows

by the riverbank overhung with willows


Pislikurja, save me if you can!

I strive, I struggle, to escape this street

where all around I see our murdered kin

and know we too will share the self-same fate.

Where are you? I no longer hear your voice,

your clear blue eyes, your soft pink skin, recedes

into a freezing fog denser than ice,

and all my tears dissolve as your vision fades

you, like the road, distant as ash and embers

from the living heat and glow of our yog's true flame,

on this new road with neither patrin nor cambers

we see no mountain of hope we still may climb,

only crumbling pathways pocked with holes,

not the alluring tracks of hills and dales


oh, our sad freedom, flickering and lost

like a dowsed beacon from a far-off land

and we, lovers in spite of all, are cast

into the cold and dark; their laws rescind

all natural kindness, all that smells or sounds

of joy, of laughter, love; frozen to blocks

of giant ice statues, they close up the wounds

of pain or happiness, cut down with their axe

all things that make us human, make us smile,

touch each other tenderly, shed tears, show care

to others - all dismissed, the world made small

into a prison camp or abattoir,

and our forsaken hearts can only flutter

defiantly, before at last we shatter

The shoes of our Roma owners

we are the shoes

of those who walked the roads

in freedom and happiness,

before they came for our wearers

the feet we shod

were called subhuman,

and so they ripped us away

from their now bare feet

we were lucky:

we survived;

our Roma owners

not so fortunate

we watched them evaporating

as the chimneys of Auschwitz

sent them who knows where?

they will never walk upon the earth again

new owners came,

told us they were Aryans,

and we were worthier of them

than any dirty gypsies

The Porajmos

I, a stranger, walk the trail of tears

Shared by my race.

Like them, I carry an alien face.

Even after all these years

Our deaths remain unmourned, ignored.

The crowd of tourists thronging round

At Auschwitz now seem almost bored.

With so much horror in the TV news

Can tears of pity for the past be found?

I, trembling, try to take stock

Of thirteen years of madness and cruel death:

Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bialystok;

I catch my quivering breath.

Here and now, in this dreadful place

I stand alone,

The only representative of my race

And hear the drone

Of others thinking 'only my death matters.'

They should remember what the poet Donne said:

'Each man's death diminishes me.' Idle chatter

From increasingly bored tourists fills my head,

And I escape to a much earlier time,

To relive in myself the vicious crime.

I am alone and frightened as I stand

Watching the familiar uniform

Of the SS driving us from our land,

And then, like a huge swarm

Of stinging wasps, on to the train they led us,

And made us promises of work and homes,

And even dignity. Oh, how they bled us!

Our blood soon reddened the mighty ocean's foam.

I am a gypsy girl today,

I, waiting for the train to take me

Into the darkness where they soon will make me

Abandon earth for ever. I must pay,

I and my people, for what they call the crime

Of being homeless, wandering the road,

Passing our time

In our hand-painted vardos, with our load

Of kipsies and other goods to sell.

For this they sentenced us to hell.

I, a gypsy, out of India, wandering,

I, betrayed, stripped, beaten, raped and slain;

I, who but yesterday was dukkering

The vast of a rakli, slaughtered on the plain.

I am surrounded, cursed and spat upon,

Lied to and about;

My blood is slowly oozing out:

I shall never bear a son.

The heroes in black are raising their fists

And punching and kicking me into the ground;

There is no strength left in my wrists,

Nor any help to be found.

I, naked, dripping with sweat and blood,

Am dragged, too weak to scream, towards the shower;

They do not want to wash me clean of blood

But to destroy me in this evil hour.

And now they bundle me into the room

Which now I know will be my bitter tomb.

The gas pours in; I try to catch my breath,

But there's no cheating this unwelcome death.

Not a bird sings as I pass away,

Not a flower blooms as I am cast aside;

Just yesterday I should have been a bride,

And gladly married miri ro,

Yet here I am and now to hell I go,

Or death at least. Divvel, pray for me now!

I'll soon be fertiliser for the plough.

I am a single voice

Mourning the loss of 800,000 folk

Who, under the bitter yoke

Of tyranny, were slain.

We had no choice;

Death was the only way to end our pain.

Out of the thousands who died

Mine is only a single cry

For the old and the young,

The women and men,

Who were led out to die

Again and again:

I am only their voice.

Here, in Auschwitz, Chelmno, Bialystok,

I watch the crowds of tourists flock.

The holocaust deniers spin their lies;

The special pleaders will not grant our place

Beside their own. 'Gypsies are not a race,'

Or so they, lying, say, and with insincere sighs

Try to round down the numbers of our dead,

And almost blame us. Oh, the bitter bread

We eat even today! The evil names

They call us as they try to bring us shame!

Yes, I'm a gippo, pikey, call me what you will:

Love always conquers hate, and always will.

A family story

all that you knew of your young life was gone

in an instant as they snatched away from you

your parents, brother, sister; in the line

a stranger's hand led you apart, your wan

and baffled five=year body under blue

skies with no right to gleam with such a shine

of brightness, when within this place of death

your family was robbed of its last breath

no storm clouds, no avenging lightning flashed,

no angry roll of thunder in the sky,

no sodden rain to cleanse this cursed earth,

only the quiet murder, all hope dashed,

as those you loved were led away to die,

even the mother who had given birth

to you, her youngest. There was no release

for them, from the order demanding their decease

a hand took yours, a voice spoke in your ear

in German, saying: 'come with me, my lad;'

you followed meekly, did not understand

that you stood in a place of death and fear,

that all the world around was going mad,

and all because of a lunatic's command

your family must die. You let him then

lead you away, out of this cursed pen

he fed you, hid you; later that same night

he somehow spirited you from the camp

and saw to it you were sent safely on

in the hands of those who still served the light,

and though the road was cold and dark and damp,

the inner darkness cleared, as kind hearts shone

love and compassion on a trembling boy,

whom the murderers longed so cruelly to destroy

a long journey you had then,

taken across the mountain's crags,

travelling by night mostly, little to eat,

but they protected you as a hen

nurtures her eggs. For all the dangers and snags

they brought you through, finding a safe retreat

in a neutral land where you could rest your feet

after the war was over you left the land

where you'd been safe, coming to Britain's shore

where you had relatives. They took you in,

and slowly you were able to withstand

the hurt and pain and grief you'd known before,

and learn to laugh again. The mortal sin

they did to you and yours must not be lost;

though you survived, at far too great a cost!

The Last Survivors

almost all of us are dead now,

and with the final passing of us few

the stench of burnt flesh in our nostrils

will vanish, all the horror we endured

safely consigned to the dark womb of history

for all that my hair and nails still reek

of the miasma of the camps, for all that my lips

still tremble a little even to pronounce the names

of those long lost, and the factories of death

in which they were so scientifically immolated

now I am naked only by choice,

and taking a shower has a different meaning

from what it did back then. I am still a gypsy,

but soon my life, like those of my brothers and sisters,

will pass away into the sleep of death

flowers and memorials - only a few, but still -

have been planted or erected in our name,

yet we, whom work did not make free,

remain the raped, butchered, condemned even now

as maggots festering in the body politic

of so-called civilised society

our deaths matter to no one

except ourselves. we learnt long ago

that few indeed were the gorgers we could trust,

and all the mocking taunts, the doors slammed in our faces,

the signs bidding us stay away, the forced deportations

as another wave of ethnic cleansers

choose us as its easy, acceptable victims

Christ died two thousand years ago

on a cross of wood. He died for us all:

there was no gorger, Roma, in His heart,

only a promise of His boundless love

to all humanity, even my alien folk

we learnt that men are cruel and cold:

only in the love of God can we trust

Straw birth

the second time around

the air was blue with sky,

and the pain no longer unexpected

so when the time came again

I didn't have to push so hard,

not fastened into stirrups

in a sterile hospital

you came out of me easily,

my body propelling you into the day's

brightness, welcoming you into the world

you, my strange guest,

living within the house of my body

for nine long months,

emerging, solitary, groping,

yet perfectly formed. You suck eagerly

on my nipples, my breasts

gladly nourishing you

and because you were born at home

I could lay you on this healing straw

to keep you safe


each new chal

remakes the world around,

you have to be tough

when everyone's against you,

so you get street smarts,

do a little stuff

that isn't legal

out of our twisted past,

ground down, oppressed,

enslaved and murdered,

we have always made

music a weapon

so with manele,

we weave magical notes to lift us up

from the squalid mahalas

in which they condemn amaro folki

to pretend to live

young in our age,

old in our rage,

softness, gentleness,

cast aside

as we push on through

young chavis,

young rebel atmans,

standing up against the rey baro,

creating with our music and our lives

hope for a new world,

hope to make a difference

young rat

rising angry in the veins,

not taking no more khul

from even the patronizingly friendly gorgers

moving on,

building a future with the notes of our manele

and the endless chingary against

the glox and all their gorger works

young rat, young chavis,

moving on

to a new freedom













Glossary of Romani/Romanichal words

Abri - out

Adja poo kar – fuck off

Akai – here

Amaro - our

Amaro folki – our people

Atchin-tan – stopping place

Atmans – chiefs of our people

Baxt – luck, happiness, joy

Brigaki djilia – sad songs; our equivalent of spirituals or the early blues

Chal – fellow, person

Chao – tea

Chavis – children

Chingary - fight

Chon, choon, shon, shoon - moon

Dikk – look, see

Divvel, duvvel - God

Drom, drum – road

Dukkering – telling fortunes; dukkering the vast – reading palms

Folki – people (with particular reference to the Romanies)

Gauji, gadzhe, gorger, gorgio and other variants – non-gypsy

Glox – boss (usually but not always referring to gorger bosses)

Gry, grai, grey – horse

Jaul – travel; jaul the drom – travel along the roads

Khul - shit

Kipsies - baskets

Lavuta – violin

Lungo drom – long road

Mahalas – the slums and shanty towns in which the majority of our people, especially in Eastern Europe, are compelled to live by vicious persecution and discrimination

Mandi, mande – me, I; Mandi dikkava tuti varekai – I see you everywhere

Miri – my, mine

Patrin – the signs left by Romanies for others of the brotherhood to follow

Pislikurja – darling, sweetheart

Porajmos – the Romani holocaust when 90% of Europe’s Roma and Sinti were murdered by the Nazis

Rakli – non-gypsy woman

Rat - blood

Rey baro – the Establishment; the gorger power structure; the bosses

Ro – man, husband; miri ro – my husband

Rocker, rocka – to speak

Ruppeny, ruppeni - silver

Scran – food

Sheka – horse-shit

Vardo – old horse-drawn wooden painted caravans we used to travel around the

country in

Vast - hand

Yog –fire

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