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Letter from a Far Country

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Letter from a Far Country

ePub

They have gone. The silence resettles

slowly as dust on the sunlit

surfaces of the furniture.

At first the skull itself makes

sounds in any fresh silence,

a big sea running in a shell.

I can hear my blood rise and fall.

Dear husbands, fathers, forefathers,

this is my apologia, my

letter home from the future,

my bottle in the sea which might

take a generation to arrive.

The morning’s all activity.

I draw the detritus of a family’s

loud life before me, a snow plough,

a road-sweeper with my cart of leaves.

The washing machine drones

in the distance. From time to time

as it falls silent I fill baskets

with damp clothes and carry them

into the garden, hang them out,

stand back, take pleasure counting

and listing what I have done.

The furniture is brisk with polish.

On the shelves in all of the rooms

I arrange the books

in alphabetical order

 

Letter from a Far Country

PDF

Letter from a Far Country

They have gone. The silence resettles slowly as dust on the sunlit surfaces of the furniture.

At first the skull itself makes sounds in any fresh silence, a big sea running in a shell.

I can hear my blood rise and fall.

Dear husbands, fathers, forefathers, this is my apologia, my letter home from the future, my bottle in the sea which might take a generation to arrive.

The morning’s all activity.

I draw the detritus of a family’s loud life before me, a snow plough, a road-sweeper with my cart of leaves.

The washing machine drones in the distance. From time to time as it falls silent I fill baskets with damp clothes and carry them into the garden, hang them out, stand back, take pleasure counting and listing what I have done.

The furniture is brisk with polish.

On the shelves in all of the rooms

I arrange the books in alphabetical order according to subject: Mozart,

Advanced Calculus, William, and Paddington Bear.

Into the drawers I place your clean clothes, pyjamas with buttons sewn back on, shirts stacked neatly under their labels on the shelves.

 

Miracle on St. David’s Day

PDF

Miracle on St. David’s Day

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude.

– ‘The Daffodils’, Wordsworth

An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed with daffodils. The path treads the sun among cedars and enormous oaks.

It might be a country house, guests strolling, the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.

An old woman, interrupting, offers as many buckets of coal as I need.

A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic on a good day, they tell me later.

In a cage of first March sun a woman sits not listening, not seeing, not feeling.

In her neat clothes the woman is absent.

A big, mild man is tenderly led to his chair. He has never spoken.

His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks gently to the rhythms of the poems.

I read to their presences, absences, to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

He is suddenly standing, silently, huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow movement of spring water or the first bird of the year in the breaking darkness, the labourer’s voice recites ‘The Daffodils’.

 

Miracle on St. David’s Day

ePub

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude.

– ‘The Daffodils’, Wordsworth

An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed

with daffodils. The path treads the sun

among cedars and enormous oaks.

It might be a country house, guests strolling,

the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs.

I am reading poetry to the insane.

An old woman, interrupting, offers

as many buckets of coal as I need.

A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens

entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic

on a good day, they tell me later.

In a cage of first March sun a woman

sits not listening, not seeing, not feeling.

In her neat clothes the woman is absent.

A big, mild man is tenderly led

to his chair. He has never spoken.

His labourer’s hands on his knees, he rocks

gently to the rhythms of the poems.

I read to their presences, absences,

to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks.

 

Insomnia

PDF

 

Insomnia

ePub

Afternoon sleeping is best. The fallen book;

sunlight on walls; green leaves

on white curtains are emblematic woods.

The stone-deep drop from consciousness

into cold darkness, till the rope jerks.

The fronded upper reaches are passed,

to a leafless, sunless, soundless dark.

At night I listen to clocks, could walk

the streets, too excited by night

sounds for sleeping, cannot let fall

the book of the mind.

 

Chalk Pebble

ePub

for Jeremy Hooker

The heels of the foetus knead

the stone’s roundness out of shape,

downtreading flesh, distorting

the ellipses of the sphere.

It is unexpectedly

salty to touch, its texture

warmer, rougher, weightier

in my hand than I had thought.

Boisterous in its bone

cradle, a stone-breaker,

thief in its mother’s orchard.

it is apple-round.

Here the navel

knots it from its chalk down;

there the pressure as the embryo

kicks against ribcage and hip.

The cicatrice of a flower

is printed on one of its

curved surfaces. I carry it

as I walk Glamorgan beaches,

a warm, strange thing to worry

with my fingers. The fossil locked

in its belly stirs, a tender

fresh upheaval of the stone. 

 

Chalk Pebble

PDF

 

Sunday

PDF

 

Sunday

ePub

Getting up early on a Sunday morning

leaving them sleep for the sake of peace,

the lunch pungent, windows open

for a blackbird singing in Cyncoed.

Starlings glistening in the gutter come

for seed. I let the cats in from the night,

their fur already glossed and warm

with March. I bring the milk, newspaper,

settle here in the bay of the window to watch

people walking to church for Mothering Sunday.

A choirboy holds his robes over his shoulder.

The cats jump up on windowsills to wash

and tremble at the starlings. Like peaty water

sun slowly fills the long brown room.

Opening the paper I admit to this

the starved stare of a warning I can’t name.

 

East Moors

ePub

At the end of a bitter April

the cherries flower at last in Penylan.

We notice the white trees and the flash

of sea with two blue islands beyond

the city, where the steelworks used to smoke.

I live in the house I was born in,

am accustomed to the sudden glow

of flame in the night sky, the dark sound

of something heavy dropped, miles off,

the smell of sulphur almost natural.

In Roath and Rumney now, washing strung

down the narrow gardens will stay clean.

Lethargy settles in front rooms and wives

have lined up little jobs for men to do.

A few men stay to see it through. Theirs

the bitterest time as rolling mills

make rubble. Demolition gangs

erase skylines whose hieroglyphs

recorded all our stories.

I am reminded of that Sunday

years ago when we brought the children

to watch two water cooling towers

blown up, recall the appalling void

in the sunlight, like a death.

 

East Moors

PDF

East Moors

At the end of a bitter April the cherries flower at last in Penylan.

We notice the white trees and the flash of sea with two blue islands beyond the city, where the steelworks used to smoke.

I live in the house I was born in, am accustomed to the sudden glow of flame in the night sky, the dark sound of something heavy dropped, miles off, the smell of sulphur almost natural.

In Roath and Rumney now, washing strung down the narrow gardens will stay clean.

Lethargy settles in front rooms and wives have lined up little jobs for men to do.

A few men stay to see it through. Theirs the bitterest time as rolling mills make rubble. Demolition gangs erase skylines whose hieroglyphs recorded all our stories.

I am reminded of that Sunday years ago when we brought the children to watch two water cooling towers blown up, recall the appalling void in the sunlight, like a death.

On this first day of May an icy rain is blowing through this town, quieter, cleaner, poorer from today.

The cherries are in flower in Penylan.

 

Scything

ePub

It is blue May. There is work

to be done. The spring’s eye blind

with algae, the stopped water

silent. The garden fills

with nettle and briar.

Dylan drags branches away.

I wade forward with my scythe.

There is stickiness on the blade.

Yolk on my hands. Albumen and blood.

Fragments of shell are baby-bones,

the scythe a scalpel, bloodied and guilty

with crushed feathers, mosses, the cut cords

of the grass. We shout at each other,

each hurting with a separate pain.

From the crown of the hawthorn tree

to the ground the willow warbler

drops. All day in silence she repeats

her question. I too return

to the place holding the pieces,

at first still hot from the knife,

recall how warm birth fluids are.

 

Scything

PDF

 

Bluetit and Wren

ePub

Two of all those

that have lived in our wall

left us their meanings.

The bluetit found

after bitter winter,

yellow feathers

just reachable, blue down

at fingertip, beak turned

to breast as though

the sky that called her

to build among stones froze her

to ammonite.

And the brown wren

who whirred from her cave as I

repeatedly

turned the corner

with a shovel of fresh mortar

for your pointing.

We met there, placed

our fingers in the wren’s nest

holding our breath

at mossy heat,

the delicate tiny eggs

each with its pulse.

Such secret interiors.

 

Bluetit and Wren

PDF

 

Ll^yr

PDF

^

Llyr

Ten years old, at my first Stratford play:

The river and the king with their Welsh names

Bore in the darkness of a summer night

Through interval and act and interval.

Swans moved double through glossy water

Gleaming with imponderable meanings.

Was it Gielgud on that occasion?

Or ample Laughton, crazily white-gowned,

Pillowed in wheatsheaves on a wooden cart,

Who taught the significance of little words?

All. Nothing. Fond. Ingratitude. Words

To keep me scared, awake at night. That old

Man’s vanity and a daughter’s ‘Nothing’,

Ran like a nursery rhythm in my head.

^

Thirty years later on the cliffs of Llyn

I watch how Edgar’s crows and choughs still measure

How high cliffs are, how thrown stones fall

Into history, how deeply the bruise

Spreads in the sea where the wave has broken.

The turf is stitched with tormentil and thrift,

Blue squill and bird bones, tiny shells, heartsease.

Yellowhammers sing like sparks in the gorse.

The landscape’s marked with figures of old men

The bearded sea; thin-boned, wind-bent trees;

 

Llyr

ePub

Llŷr

Ten years old, at my first Stratford play:

The river and the king with their Welsh names

Bore in the darkness of a summer night

Through interval and act and interval.

Swans moved double through glossy water

Gleaming with imponderable meanings.

Was it Gielgud on that occasion?

Or ample Laughton, crazily white-gowned,

Pillowed in wheatsheaves on a wooden cart,

Who taught the significance of little words?

All. Nothing. Fond. Ingratitude. Words

To keep me scared, awake at night. That old

Man’s vanity and a daughter’s ‘Nothing’,

Ran like a nursery rhythm in my head. 

Thirty years later on the cliffs of Llŷn

I watch how Edgar’s crows and choughs still measure

How high cliffs are, how thrown stones fall

Into history, how deeply the bruise

Spreads in the sea where the wave has broken.

The turf is stitched with tormentil and thrift,

Blue squill and bird bones, tiny shells, heartsease.

 

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