Poem: Cardiff Central – A Poet’s Journey

don

I.

Cardiff – you have soothed and slayed me;

I need only inhabit you for the space of five

Minutes to assure myself that the madness

Of my pent-up prophecies is as nothing to the

Weather-beaten wastrels who prophesy and

Harangue on your wind-cavilled corners – even

The Mayor crawls along in a sleeping bag,

Piled-up garbage auctioneered by seagulls,

Steel bins rattle out West Indian rhythms,

And those that rave against the wind that rages

Against the too solid dreams of architect’s shopping

Bills, can find their muse in a pint – a pill – in the cold

Delectation of needful starvation – in a parka – in a tree –

In a saucer of coffee – in a needle. Like geometry hurling

Away from the simple primacy of a circle, girls and trend-

Tortured boys find ever more deviant ways in which to clothe

Themselves to conceal their hollow nothings. Noise, noise,

Everywhere, as we pilot a city that feels like a ship sailing

Drunken over vertiginous seas

II.

And then to the museum, where I navigate past Bacon,

Doig, Monet, Picasso, Daumier, and a bevy of French

Impressionists, before I find heaven in the 18th Century,

Only to be kicked out ten minutes later. I admire the

Curvature of faces – scenes from Goethe – and every

Pretty girl I see seems to be a hollow chuckle in the face

Of my celibacy. I can entertain Mediterranean phantasies

Within the safety of a frame – feel the sensuous warm winds

Of French-Italian orchards from the 1800’s – love-uplifting

Paradises so far removed from the tragicomic melancholy

Of Wale’s capital city.

III.

And no one has ever told me that I look Welsh:

French, Polish, Russian, American, Canadian,

Norwegio-Scandanavian, apocryphally European –

But never have I been observed to be a Celt in the

Country where I have haphazardly arisen. Could I

Be said to belong to this country anymore than I

Belong to this century? A classicist! A classicist!

Some idealist hangover from another aeon when

One could squawk to the cries of Aesthetics, Ideas,

And Irreligion! When to think, to speak, to read,

And to think meant more than just a brand name,

Or the production of a meaningless YouTube video

That is sure to make some yuppie millions.

IV.

And then I come to Daumier’s scene from Cervantes’

Don Quixote, and for the first time since reading it

I realized how much like the self-proclaimed knight

Of delusions I’ve been; the absurdity of my chastity

In a century that dwindles everything down to the

Freudian milestone of sex in the banal inadequacy

Of its own reduction; of my enraptured, ecstatic,

Fevered sensibility in a generation where to feel is

To be ill; to be ill is to be the pet demon of a diagnostician;

And to be diagnosed is to be sedative-dependent, kept far

Away from feelings, feelings, feelings – “O, feeling begone!

Feeling keep out!” the shop sign should say to the numb

Consumption of our over-shopped bodies – no sorrow,

No grief, no susceptibility, no surf on the surging spindrift

Of gurgling thoughts – just the pharmacy-sanctioned

Monochrome of apathy unfree and unwheeling.

V.

Now The Poet, The Knight has taken himself to a

Shopping Mall coffee shop where he can linger

In a caffeinated-delirium pretending to be Samuel

Taylor Coleridge, or Samuel Johnson, though it is

Hard to make the verses or definitions flow when

You are listening to Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber.

Puffs of coffee brewing plumes to powdered wigs,

And a blonde on a laptop opposite holds eye

Contact with me for longer than is either healthy

Or sensible. I do not hear the rustle of petticoats,

Nor the flirtatious bird-flutter of sequined fans; only

The flurry of keys on her Apple Mac – and because

Thomas Gainsborough is not available to paint her,

Snapchat will have to do instead.

VI.

Now then comes that awkward moment when we have

Both looked over at one another too many times not

To do something about it. I posture like a coquette,

Flirting with my own hair, playfully rubbing my Arabic

Scarf against my face in the drapery of suggested eroticism.

Perhaps if this were a Jane Austen novel I could have presented

Her with my card; some boring old matriarch of social relation

Could have tendered an introduction between us – but, try as

She might, she will not be able to swipe me on Tinder – and

As there is no drunken offender to call out my name, she will

Not find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram either.

VII.

And, so, what are we to find in the beheading guillotine

Pincer of this moment? This indecisive flirtation prolonged

By tension and poetized in free-verse’s diction? I no longer

Have any legitimate reason for staying; I have drunk all the

Free cups of coffee that my charm can acquire me – I am

Like a teardrop suspended on somebody’s eyelash that is

Destined to fall, but has not yet conceived the conviction

To do so. What would any woman want with this over-

Chaste wastrel, this handsome, yet aggressively gentle

Tatterdemalion? I need more than just limbs – but thoughts,

Feelings, the voluptuous teasings of genius to arouse me;

Whatever phantasy you have of me, I will entertain it as

Much as I will demolish it, as my mind swirls along the

Arabesques of foreign geometry, and I dream of kisses

Concealed in clouds, the softness of hands, of eye-contact

Over-prolonged, until your whole universe turns into iris,

Into pupil, and you can see everything in those rivulet-

Changing colours; until you are so consumed by romance,

That lust almost tricks you – no longer a hollow product

Of bodily desire, but one of the natural outpourings of

Love.

VIII.

Ah, my skin feels like it is swimming in colour when it

Entertains such thoughts! When summer is not just an

Airy dream, but a tangible reality, and I am back in those

French orchards again, the atmosphere sucking me with

Slow delight, like a young child savouring a lollipop, or

A sex-suggesting young coquette slowly applying her

Lipstick!

IX.

And all of these agile, Hyperborean thoughts are

Accompanied by the bladder-pressing knowledge

That I really need to piss. “To pee or not to pee?”

I question, loath to leave my perfect vantage,

Wherefrom I can scribble in my notebook, and

Occasionally, tentatively, glance up at the blonde.

X.

And then the walk back to the train station, bright

Lights against darkened skies, the hint of fires on top

Of the cathedral, the flaming relique of religious

Conviction. Drunken assemblies of contemporary

Celts tossed about by their own uncertain tides,

The yawning mouths of crowded clubs invite like

Doorways into the discotheques of hell, guarded not

By Cerberus, but bloated bouncers, police mingling

With the drunkards they both protect and prosecute.

XI.

Now the train ride back home – polite conversation

With rugby fans on the platform, able to give an imitation

Of sociability, but too genteel, too alien, to fully commit to

It. A vacant seat beside me. I wonder what kind of woman

Could fill that seat – what kind of sensitive sylph could inspire

Me with love, and could commit to loving, and being loved by

Me? What will be the color of her hair? The sparkle of her eyes?

Her raison d’être? Her response to the vastness of infinite skies?

How will she inspire me, irritate me, castigate me, uplift me;

How will she understand and desire me without merely

Fetishizing me?

XII.

These lofty wonderings are disrupted by a conversation

Between some drunken Saxons who have just noticed a

Pair of women – a redhead and a brunette – who have

Had the foresight to bring a cheeseboard onto the train.

This is the all-inclusive inseparability of life, thought

Becoming reality, and reality inspiring thought.

XIII.

And I feel sober, sensible, philosophic, dull: my

Mad Welsh brethren, I cannot compete with you!

So I sleepily return to my bookish bower in Abergavenny,

Where I will be grateful for more than just sleep.

***

 

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Poem: The Death of Frosts

old-man

Old Age does not come in a moment;

Nor does it creep in with a limp; for

Things do not age here, but retain

Their youth – even when bones

Threaten to burst from their bounds,

Youth remains picturesquely the same.

 *

First the pitch drops, and we lose high

Noises; I look to the ground, and tiny

Elves rush among the leaves, gathering

The debris of autumn into the firewood of

Winter to manufacture a new age for the

Moment.

*

Ice Queens pass. I bow my head,

Solemn, chaste, as the white gowns

Of winter inspirit a benevolence more

Peaceful than the fracturing of a

Mirror

*

I pass the castle, and carry you with

Me, wrapped in a harness, like a

Swaddled baby. For even, many miles

Apart, I am always thinking of looking

After you.

 *

I will not drop you, though I continue

To limp, and we still have many crooked

Mountains to climb, before the worm

Wriggles from the earth, and the sun

Smiles upon the frosts that die.

*

This is not old age, but our first real

Flush of youth – all those melodies

Of past lives spent chasing each

Other’s tails – this silent shaman

Has learned to wail – and now he

Has his proof.

*

II.

And where will these melodies

Take us? What roads will they

Spiralize into the futuristic past –

Where all things creep up on

Themselves, rear their heads,

And tap their backs, saying:

 *

Look – I’ve found you,

Right where I left you –

I was right here all along!”

Did I not do the same?

Did I not tap your shoulder,

Lift up your heart – make you

Bolder? Catching you, delicately,

Unawares, as you fished me

Out my skin?

 *

The wind cannot tell me these things

This time of year – only kiss me, slowly,

With dried lips. And, if we sit still, and

Purse our lips, we will hear the sky

Laugh with a merry burst, and smile,

Smile,

Smile.

 

Poem: Eliza and the Sea

eliza

Let me tell you a tale of the worlds

 *

She sat upon the jagged rocks,

The sea surged about her –

They were her allies – her closest

Friends – her sources of strength and power

 *

The spray, the mist, the foam, the

Bladderwrack, the sunken submarines,

And great triumphal arches of gored

Mountain sides

*

She sat upon the rocks.

And surged along with the surge

*

II.

Let me tell you a tale of the worlds

There is the Overworld

And the Underworld

And within these two concentric circles,

All things overlap, interpenetrate, unite,

And fight, so that, from the One, comes

Two, and from the Two, comes

Many

 *

III.

She sat upon the rocks,

The mist, the spray – all hers first –

She sat upon the rocks

*

She knew she would have to

Go out to sea any day now. The

Gulls in all their sky-ambling circularity

Of prophesy; every strident laugh, a

Signal of an unforgettable voyage, already

Forgotten, memorized by the sea, until it

Swallows

*

“Embark! Embark!” the winds call,

And the anchors drop. “Embark! Embark!”

Cry the clouds. They are hungry with thunder,

The sea populated with embryonic waves, that

Paint the jagged curves of Chaos’s sweet

Surface.

*

“I am Captain Eliza O’Malley,” she

Said in consideration of herself. “I am

The Greatest Stowaway of my Age. I was

Forbidden entry into this world by The Lady

Of the Lake. But, I am The Lady of the Sea!

The shipwrecks are all a-search for me,

But they will never find me.”

*

IV.

So, it is possible to be a feast

For all things:

To keep a foot in one world –

A webbed toe in another

 *

Christ will wash your foot in one world,

Satan will manicure your toes with his tongue

In another;

Then they will trade places,

For they are both the same

*

V.

Eliza O’Malley was the Captain

Of her ship. She would sleep all

Night in the beak of storms – in the

Gills of stentorian leviathan, struggling

To sleep in the deeps

*

She had killed all her family,

And left them behind her,

But families are just ghosts out here,

And everybody must kill a ghost,

Before they go out to sea

*

Eliza sang her song:

“If those waves were ladders

That snaked downwards instead of

Upwards, how fast would I have to be

For them to appear statuesque and

Still? A typhoon is a portal – the swilling

Of seawater in Neptune’s jaws, before he

Turns off the faucet of time. I have read of The

Esquimaux – how their seafaring shamans

Would dive to the bottom of the ocean,

To brush the knots in Sedna’s locks.

*

“But who will unleash the locks

In my own hairs? Can’t you see how

Every strand interlinks with a cloud;

Every cloud interlinks with a station;

And every station interlinks with a

World? These are all just different

Frequencies, my dear. They shift and

They slide, and oil the tide, of the swift’s

Wings, in blackness, beside,

*

“So, world-strewn is my hair.

But, if braided, tressed, and spun

Out for miles, these hairs and

Fibrils would seem like nothing.

 I would raise my arms up to the

Sky – the sky would lower its arms

To me – for every lass must marry

The Sky, afore she go to sea!”

*

V.

Eliza wrote this story by a lantern,

A tender flame – we call it ‘a sun’

In our universe – but it is but the reflection

From the window of a moving train in hers

*

A black shadow with blue and crimson eyes

Climbed into the galley of her ship where she

Kept her quarters:

*

“What do you do, Eliza?” he asked her.

“Is this your life: just to roam and be

Roamed?”

*

“Isn’t it everyone’s?” Eliza shouted

Back defiantly, slamming down her

Gin. “How can you escape the wanderlust

Of ages? The nautical lust to want to be

On the other side of the porthole? To

Lash yourself to the pounding heart

Of every tide? To set sail astride the stars,

And dip your feet into the udders of galaxies,

Until you are completely stranded in the isometry

Of time’s restless motions?”

*

“But you are all alone,” the shadow

Said softly. “Where are the people in

Your life? Where are you friends? Where

Are all the smiling eyes that will nestle

Kindly upon the words you’ve written

In these pages?”

 *

“I AM THE SEA!” Spake Eliza.

And she said it with such power,

That no one would dare doubt her.

“You maggoty false-breed! You trifling

Piece of spume! You tornado squeezing

Out of the flatulent arse of time! How

Dare you drift into my quarters, with your

Insinuating words, and half-spun slogans,

And question my worth for the world?!

I am The Lady of the Sea!

And you would all be nothing

Without me.”

 *

The shadow smiled at his case.

And disappeared once again into the dark.

*

VI.

Eliza shuddered at the shadow’s words.

She had flashbacks of late nights and drunken

Mornings; of climbing into bed with sweaty breasts,

Getting lost in the limbs of hairy men, the organic

Machinery of sex, the hidden ocean within, disembarking

On crystal caverns, of groans and moans echoing through

Coves, sea-shanties of sex, that pounce of bedsprings,

Reopening ancient treasure chests, sealed, but never

Forgotten.

*

She could remember all those things,

Because the sea never forgets –

It just goes on, remembering and

Forgetting, with the dementia and

Hypermnesia of every uncertain

Wave –

*

Sea Log: Autumn, Winter, January,

September, 1972, 1665 – the shadows

Did not come again today. But I can still

Feel his judgement. What am I doing so

Wrong? I have never experienced anything

But affirmation before. I go out

Onto the decks, and I am applauded

By every albatross. The clouds come to

Me in fetters to beg pardon for stealing

My sunshine away. But I curse the sun!

The sea is the sun’s grave! And I will

Eat his light into my belly, as sure as

What’s made beest unmade!”

(But the judgement still hung heavy about her)

*

“So, you want me to go back to land, do

Ye? To seek out people? Well, I tell ye,

There be no people out there! All those

Land-lubbers are just ghosts. You can walk

Through all their cities and see nothing but

Ruins.

*

“But, out here, everything is emergent.

There are no ruins. The coral reefs are

Like ancient cathedrals, robed in sand,

Rebuilt every day by the waves’ secret

Masons.”

*

But, then back to 1772,

Jocosely addressing her pirate crew:

*

I tell ye, boys, there be barnacles

Upon my breasts, as sure as there’s

Cockles in my larder! Let the canons

Spell out incipient destruction, and

I’ll tell you how I lay there . . .”

FLASHFORWARD

 *

And, she still lays there like

That, thus-wise, with the bladderwrack

Rising up around her, a constriction of

Seaweed charming her into paralysis

Every night, searing her body in visions

So vivid, they would frighten the giant

Squids of the deep

*

“I tell you – I LOVE THE SEA!”

She shrilled into her writing desk.

“But, when I die, will the sea mourn

Me? Will it attend my funeral? Will

It weep for me? Or has the sea e’er

Been weeping? It is for this that it

Beest so wet?

 *

“I have never known a dry moment

In my life. When you used to

Come towards me, Harry, and towel

Me down, how I used to scream! Don’t

Divest me of the last vestiges of my partner!

It was bad enough living in a house with you,

And not feeling the ground swell and rock

Beneath me, except when we were in bed,

Harry, my dear – I could really feel the

Curtains decked with spray then! Oh, to be

Alive and in your arms! And the arms of the

Sea! I could never tell you apart from the sea,

My Harry. So, when I was away, sailing, for

Months on end, for years, for centuries, it

Was as though I was sailing upon you, my

Harry, my love . . .

 *

“But you land-lubbers are such ghosts!

Such ghosts, such ghosts, such ghosts!”

*

VII.

And so, sometimes we sail between two

Worlds; not knowing if we ever meet –

Maybe just a sudden chill – a flash of colour –

A trace of electric paint in the air.

*

Those are the only signals we

Might have now – no longer the

Lapping and laughing of gulls and

Sea

*

But we still love you, Eliza.

And we will bury you with

All your books and candles,

Until God finally rebuilds

The Sea