Dies Irae

IMG_0139

Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Buried Alive

IMG_0688
Buried Alive
Anonymous we are,
never holding land or cattle,
lucky to own our own houses.Some castle
this rented row house
in a winding valley,
two rooms up
and two rooms down,

tin bath in the kitchen
filled with hot water
for when the shift ends.

After supper,
beer for a coal-dust throat,
then the wife, and sleep.

Next day,
a knock on the window,
a pulling on of clothes,
clogs clattering on cobbles,
a tin box sparse with food,
then down to the dark pit
of whatever mine has agreed,
at a price, to bury us alive.

Commentary: So much in this one. Very difficult to write. And a tribute to Rita McNeil’s It’s a working man I am,  two lines from the end. How long did it take me to write? Five minutes or less. Unless you count 200 years of coal mining (in South Wales alone), seventy-five years living and learning to write, and sundry workshops and exercises that have enabled me, just once in a while, to catch the butterfly as it flutters, although it never flies underground.

My Welsh Granny

IMG_0452

 

Poem for the Welsh grandmother
I never really knew

Six o’clock! The cuckoo whirrs its clockwork arrow
from the dark wood of its ambush and the flight
of my granny’s forgotten youth flashes before my eyes
to be buried among the trees. Cats! I can still count
her 1, 2, 3 cats, each one lapping milk from its saucer.

If I close my eyes, I can recall her house, her clothes,
her hair, the very bend of her body bowed over
the ironing board in the kitchen and everywhere,
the sweet and sour smell of white fish bubbling
on the stove for the cats’ supper. The cuckoo clock
strikes again. Each one wounds, the last one…?

Who knows what the last one will bring? Life’s
bitterest blows perhaps? Or missing memories
restored and with them, my granny’s own lost beauty,
with her standing upright, like some glorious flower
illuminated by a sunbeam in the wood’s dark depths.

International Day

14633208_10207317214799871_1242532105939959170_o

International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.

Dewi Sant

 

IMG_0899 (2).JPG

Dewi Sant
Cathays

 To be Welsh in Cardiff on St. David’s Day
is to walk the dogs through Blackweir Gardens
and to nod with the daffodils as they step
their stately minuet under the trees.

Wet paths wander through rain‑speckled woods
and the fish are born blind in the gardens’ stream
on account of the coal that drifts its black silt
like fine, powdered night‑time down from Taffs Well.

Under their umbrellas, the fishermen dream
of sewin and perch; the bubbling waters
swirl faster today because of the rain that fell
last night in the Rhondda where a word‑storm

brought closure of pit after pit and each loss
cut colder than a volley of hail as King Coal
tumbled from his mining‑valley throne.

Yet still the daffodils sway, the fish are born blind,
and the Taff’s black waters swirl restlessly on
past unemployed fishermen to Severn and sea.

Dreamer

IMG_0826 (3)

Dreamer
Maindy Road
Cardiff

Dressed in clothes spun from the thinnest of air
I gave my dreams to any who would listen.
“A gift,” they called it, “for words.”

Yet, when the winds blew wrong
my words changed to smoke that stained
or flames that blistered and scarred.

My tongue twisted and forked until lies
lay heavy in my mouth and my words
were weighed down with hooks, and sinkers.

My life became a night-mare ridden full‑tilt
at a windmill with a great wooden sail.
On certain nights, when the sky was sprinkled

with seeds of living gold, I rose upwards
to the moon and my words become stars;
on lesser nights, I lay broken in the gutter.

Bristol Temple Meads

IMG_0678 (2)

Bristol Temple Meads

Bristol Temple Meads

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
Passengers on the platform shuffle
rearrange themselves to get closer
to opening carriage doors. Steam
hisses out from the engine in great
white and grey clouds. He gets out
asks a porter, “Is this Bristol Central?”
“No, son. This is Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train.

Next stop, Bath. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol.
You should have got off at the last stop.
You’ve over-run your ticket mate.
There’s a fine for that and you’ll have
to buy a new one to get back to Bristol.”

“But I asked them if it was Bristol Central
and they told me it wasn’t.” “Playing silly
buggers they was, son. Bristol Temple
Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of.
And you’ll have to change platforms.
Go to the ticket office, over there, tell them
what happened, and maybe, just maybe,
they’ll let you take the next train for free.”

Commentary: Funny place, Bristol Temple Meads. I heard lots of funny things, all told in a West Country accent, or fluent Bristolese, while I was passing through there. Loved confusing passengers, they did, but more about that later. As for accents, well, the West Country accent and the Bristol accent are very different, but neither go well into prose, “coz, thee’ll never git a gurt big ‘ead like thine in a tiny l’il ‘at like this.” Thank you, the Wurzels. And as for reading and writing accents, click here.

Bristol Temple Meads
[Prose]

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
The train slows, comes to a halt with a hissing of steam and a shuddering of brakes. Passengers waiting on the platform shuffle towards the edge of the platform, re-arranging themselves to get closer to opening carriage doors.

A young boy, not yet a teenager, gets out carrying his grand-father’s overlarge suitcase in his hand.
“Is this Bristol Central?” he asks a porter.
“No, son. This is Bristol Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train along with the other Bristol passengers who are travelling to Bath.

When he gets there, the young boy gets out of the train and again approaches a porter. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol. If you wanted to go to Bristol, you should have got off at the last stop.”
“But I asked if it was Bristol Central, and the porter told me it wasn’t. So I got back on the train.”
“Playing silly buggers he was, son. They’re like that in Bristle. Bristol Temple Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of. He should have told you that.”
“What can I do now?”
“Well, you’ve over-run your ticket, mate. You’ll have to pay extra for coming on to Bath. And you’ll need a ticket to get back to Bristol. But it’s Temple Meads, mind. Don’t let them fool you again.”
“I won’t.”
“And you’ll have to change platforms. Tell you what, just go to the ticket office, over there, tell them what happened, just like you told me, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll take pity on you and let you take the next train for free.”

A question: Is the piece better in poetry or prose? Each version serves a different purpose, but I think the narrative rules. I’ll welcome any opinions you care to share.