Six Welsh Poets
THROUGH THE MAGNIFYING GLASS Like the hunter in a world of melting ice I see an image that evokes movement, Two reindeer swim to meet migrating herds, Autumn antlers indicate the season. The hunting spear is rested and instead Fine stone tools in skilled and careful hands Carve detail on this thread of history. Is this an offering to a Guardian-Guide With supplication that the herd may prosper, Returning to enrich the weak-linked chain Of human life? I hear the distant voice That shows without the cluttering of words An untold story on a small bone fragment. Looking through the magnifying glass, I set back my clock thirteen thousand years And celebrate the sculptor without a name. SUNFLOWERS AND SHADOWS (For Peter Thabit Jones) I remember the time when Vincent became our hero, When sunflowers grew from posters on our teen-age Bedroom walls and the sun and moon and stars Swirled brightly on familiar-changing scenes; And we painted searching images of self And crossed the Pont de Langlois every day And our favourite colour was yellow. Contagious yellow, contagious sun, Distorting awareness of the inner fight, The search for light through darkness in the mind, To prove that sunflowers and yellow fields Can grow from a small, claustrophobic cell. I see Vincent, even now, The painter on his way to work, his hat’s Broad brim a shield in the midday glare, Dragging a dark, crooked shadow of himself Along a sun-bright road; from corn-gold ripeness Catching black crows in bruised, portentous skies With his fevered, sable net, as if to feel Alive and not born from the dead. I stop today at posters set around The town of Auvers-sur-Oise, each poster set To mark the last step in Vincent’s desperate search For light he could not absorb ~ and there he rests; Yet darkness is diminished in the yellow house And on the pleasant café terrace at night; Refulgent yellow, refulgent sun.
ELEGY FOR IDRIS DAVIES Who hears the bells of Rhymney as they toll? There are no drams to draw along the tracks: the empty tarmac waits for laden trucks, but hollows in the hillside tell their tale. The winch and winderman have long since gone: deserted pits are crudely steeped in slag. Would Shelley’s spirit ring out once again if flames of silver leaped to greet the lark? A sloping cemetery will testify to times when angry voices could be heard. An echo rises from the Rhymney bard: it rocks and rolls a piercing lullaby. The grass is brown: brass bands have lost their sheen, but April’s music trickles down the rill. A shaft of sun makes rainbow-puddles shine in terraced streets, to light the poet’s trail. Allotments snake along the mountain road, with weathered water butts of blue and green. A raven waits while seeds of hope are sown, but wigwam-canes stand vacant and betrayed. A poet plants his footsteps in the mire, through furnaces and forges razed to soil. Bare strips of sky and horizontal moor arouse defiant voices in his soul. Stonemasons shed their monumental tears in mounds below the monkey puzzle’s arm. A sombre moon casts shadows on the dawn: a valley dreams beneath the midnight stars. PRESELI BLUE This is the stone that serenades Wales. Listen: perhaps you will catch its voice, billowing out from those rare blue hills; plucked from the soil of a windward race. This is the stone with a tale to tell, weathered and flecked, and bound with rope; trapped in a web, as the seasons sail and centuries pass like lines of sheep. This is the stone that cries to the dawn when westerlies rage and storms appear. Oceans of hill fog smother its tune: forests of icicles burn like fire. Over the Severn, up to the Plain, moving on from the land of its birth. Blue for the crags on the windswept carn: this is the stone that sings of hiraeth. SWANSONG They spied her sylphlike figure through a glass and turned to pluck mosquitoes from her hair. She beckoned to a boy who took his place beside the chequered cloth, beneath the stars. He played: she sang of home, and plumbed the depths of exile, with her beggar’s bowl of fire. Her plangent airs and wistful epithets sent echoes to the wind. Transmutable crescendos scaled the poet’s Spanish Steps, and tears of turgid pain began to blow across the Tiber’s bank. The waiter’s eyes saw red: he raged and smashed her crucible. She called her boy; and left, to their surprise, a cone of cellophane, a fading rose.
FRIEND IN FEBRUARY (for Patricia Holt) Sleep is a train That you missed tonight, And now your mind Is a junkyard Of broken feelings. Lit up like the dawn, Your thoughts are late creatures Seeking deep holes. Your wintered heart beats For tomorrow’s cold pulse. And somewhere beyond Your lonely house, Quick tongues dig for love And forests fall for kings. POETRY READING, THE ROBERT FROST FARM September grieves in me; My child, lost, shines In the New Hampshire afternoon. Words leave my mouth, Weighted as apples On a tree; words farmed Long ago in a room In Swansea, damp With a coffined silence. I read to people I will never reach. We are all in shadows. A poem is not a step In one’s ambition; The drama of it Is not an act To get somewhere. ‘I am a singer merely, I sing my song’. Something there is In me That loves a wall, The separation From others. ‘No more heroes, No more dreams, Life’s what it is, Not what it seems’ I wrote long ago When the stars fell down. And how their child lost, Robert’s and Eleanor’s, Shines in my mind. Their folding Of the clothes No longer needed; The falling emptiness; The ‘Why?’ crying Through the heart’s universe, The scream of the blood That the staring eyes shed. Grief, a visitor, In the rooms of the head. Something there is In me That loves a wall, The separation. My words, Their words, fall Like apples When there Is no-one around, And the air, natural as God, Consumes the song.
STANDING ALONE Six women stand facing the maiden’s shrine. One sister has gone removed to northern light. Soon they will be alone except for cats sneaking through the stones. FROM SYRACUSE TO MANHATTAN Whispered words “It can’t be true” “All of them?” They gather below the sacred stones And weep at the Sicilian news. Ashen faces “We can’t go on” “What’s the point?” Satellite dishes line the ancient streets While orange flames lick the screen. GLOUCESTERSHIRE IN THE NEGEV Yes, I remember the Negev — a rock, one morning of chill and rain I sat, expectantly. It was New Year. The stream formed. In the wadi below an ibex broke the silence. No one came. What I saw was the Negev — only the desert and beetles, and lizards, and lichens clinging in rocky cracks. Above, the blackness turned to white, floods of blue and gold. And in that moment an eagle soared, prophetic, silhouetted in the sky. Far behind, the silent bustle of a strife-torn city.
DOLLS IN THE ATTIC They eye me beadily dolls from another time perched silent in a row on a velvet sofa. What am I doing there invading their space looking at the unreal children. In a moment if I stay past midnight they’ll move in unison, step off their citadel pat their skirts no ankle on show lift pretty hands with lacquered fingernails porcelain fingers to choke the life from unwanted night visitors. I move towards the exit the flight of winding wooden stairs that got me there in the attic with care STREET LAMP We look to the past When the light shone brighter When days were sun-filled And after dark We loitered hand in hand Under its yellow beam Your Summer dress picked out Your face lit In mysterious tones As we cuddled together Afire Under the street lamp. We struggle to remember Its warm glow Its elegant form While the sharp lights Where we take Our evening stroll These Winter nights Are so bright Fail to flatter Your hard-won lines Your worried frown. Oh, for the street lamps When life was just begun And I kissed you, my love, Under the subtle rays. THE SHADE A chubby man followed me to the library along the streets of Boston past Dunkin’ Donuts and Pete’s coffee and teas into the pharmacy for Vick’s Vaporub hence to Harvard and leafy trees. His shadow followed me up the steps through the doors of the public halls. The throng already there greeted the shadow and not me with loud applause in the dusty halls until he faded from sight to his proper shape a shade and I stepped forward flesh and blood to shout to the wind, the stars and the rain to be acclaimed by the crowd in my own right for a while free of the shame not to be him again free of the shadow that keeps pace with me throughout my life that dogs my steps.
BEGINNING OF THE END Sipping a night-cap, in the evening of life, she gazes at cardboard boxes. Wrapped in yesterday’s news, distant relatives meet at last, and perfect patches pattern the wallpaper. Dusty biography is brushed under the carpet. Skeletons are locked in creepy cupboard: tittle-tattle prattles no more. The doorbell sings its sinister song. The antiquarian cunningly collects possessions displayed for inspection; experience rewards his vision. In transit, her value slides into corners of cardboard vaults. At journey’s end, it shatters under the hammer of new beginnings. RED RIDING HOOD A frail figure followed A trail through the woods. Thin as a prisoner, Starved of love, She understood Her filial function. She carried a bag as empty As a loveless marriage. Whistling wolves Lay in wait, ready to bite, Hungry for something Only she could provide. Her father had warned her: “Be a good girl, Put on your frock, Give me a twirl,” And the whirl of his hand Fastened her hood. Her straight hair draped From a brain as limp as impotence. Lipstick, as red as wounds, bled on her lips, Flowing like lava to her fingertips. She emerged from the forest, lipstick intact, The patriarch waiting to carry her bag, Weighted with shame, blaming grandma. THE WEDDING DRESS Creaking into action, the dressmaker’s rusty Consciousness squeaks indelible thoughts; Floods of forgotten skills rush to perform. Ivory cobweb threads pattern the lacy Corners of the attic. Like an intoxicated bridegroom, The dummy stands in a funny sort of way. Creasing with laughter, the duchess satin Shakes off the dusty designs of ambition. Curiosity uncoils the measuring tape, It snakes around gathering statistics. The seamstress is a silvery statistic, Stitched to a realistic fate that tears The fabric of her being. Watching from their cellophane window, Tear drop pearls beg an invitation To embellish: with shiny influence. Crazy with loneliness, the sewing machine Longs for an electrical surge; The switch is pressed.