Poem: Fragments From a Welsh Cottage

cottage

Mist communes with a pine-covered mountain,
A snail shell hung, just-so, on branching wisteria,
Clinging to the door frame of a hill-hidden Welsh
Cottage, swaddled in the fleeces of trees and
Distant cuckoo calls

Life, enwhorled, appears as an irregular series of
Revelations, each one more declivitous and demolishing
Than the last – the more you know, the unsteadier you feel,
Blinking in the eye of the horizon, realizing that every sound
You hear is communication, and everything you can see is
But sound frozen

Let us not call it music – it runs deeper than that,
Like water flowing through an inaccessible cavern
That no one hears, yet every man feels in the trickling
Of time and timelessness in those rare, still moments
Of syrupy slowness

And I want to slow it all down.
I see a magpie perch on a steel bridge,
And I jealously wish to possess the peace
I see in its dark, inscrutable eyes

But the obfuscation of feelings in transition
Bewilders me – mine is the peace of strange,
Spectral fish lurking motionless for seven years
In a pool of phantoms

The image and the imaginer,
In the fish-eyed lens of water,
Wearing the laurels of wistfulness,
On a misty mountain day

 

Poem: The Ballad of the River Usk

styx_by_aniaem-d4ex5ev.jpg

I.

Wild demons are abroad tonight,

Feasting upon the absence of light,

Lurching, and twisting, and pulling wry faces,

Seizing the energy your fear displaces

II.

On a night such as this, I sail down the river

To seek forgiveness from an unholy forgiver;

The River Usk, a Styx and a Lethe became,

To the underworld I descended, with only the flame

III.

Of the amber-spun moon flaming over my head,

A sky-burning candle, guiding my quest,

The water is like oil – a riverine road –

An aqueous voyage to the land of the dead

IV.

Sailing onwards, even the darkness grows darker,

A thick fog of nothingness stifles my eyes,

Yet still through that darkness, I see the outline of ruins,

Palaces that crumbled before they e’er could rise

V.

Yet rise yet he does from that oily darkness,

Algae drips from him, reeking of death,

His visage is the very imagery of starkness,

Rotten teeth in his mouth – no eyes in his head

VI.

An eye is handed to him by a faithful assistant,

An orb of pure vision that sees more than I,

He howls and he brays as it burns into his socket,

He moans, he trembles, he screams, and he sighs

VII.

And issues a hiss of ungodly utterance:

“What does this mortal want with me?”

But before I can tremblingly answer, he says:

“You need not tell me – The Eyeball – it sees!”

VIII.

And what did it see, this eyeball omniscient?

What embryo of agony did it spy in my soul?

What did it see, so morbidly efficient –

Making it pulse, twitch, writhe and roll?

IX.

Could it see all my sins – my scarified errors –

Or was it an omen of disfigured prophecy?

Could it witness the fruition of all my terrors?

O, whatever, O ever, could that terrible eye see?

X.

But The Demon King just laughed at the scream of my tension,

Each of his laughs like a murder of crows,

An otherworldly laugh of unknown intension,

A tumour that hurts the more that it grows

XI.

I shivered in the face of these loveless decibels,

I thirsted for mercy – anticipating none –

I heard the ringing of bells from unholy churches,

I felt as though my good deeds had all been undone

XII.

Undone, undone, and spun into evil,

The purity of my love distorted to hate,

Yet still I loved on – loved on in that darkness,

Beating my heart ‘gainst a barbed-wire gate

XIII.

“What will you do if these gates burst asunder?

What will you do?” the Demon mocked with glee,

“What will you do with that heart-forging thunder?”

And once more The Demon King laughed at me

XIV.

And I had no idea what I would do,

No idea what I would do if my love were set free,

If all of my dreams were liberated from hell,

And returned, like swallows, back to me

XV.

I cried, and I wept, and sobbed in a frenzy,

Clawing at my skin, as if to escape,

Anything to be liberated from this eternal tension,

Eternally falling in a mouth grossly agape

XVI.

But then the Demon’s grin turned into a grimace,

His bones from his body began to break out,

A rupture of entrails – thus I morbidly singeth –

Oh, his agonizing bones – they came out – they came out!

XVII.

He screamed in agony – blood from him erupting

Blood coursing from his eyes in rivers of pain,

And from that squalid darkness corrupting,

Emerged a bright light – a lucent white flame

XVIII.

That filled the caverns of Hades with almighty wonder,

Devils and demons all dream-makers became,

The oily River Usk turned a magical color,

And the joy in my heart sang freely again

XIX.

But whether Love could triumph in hell’s temporary oblivion,

That my tale cannot foresee;

Heaven is a mysterious and scary abysm;

And my Dreams are their own private agonies

XX.

So, I’ll stay here, and linger a while in the forest,

Stay here and sing with the birds in the trees,

Stay here, straining to hear the winds whisper

If ever my love is meant to be.

 

Poem: Café Sonata – A Fantasia

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Watching The Willow Woman come to life,

All winter, cursed in un-nurturing soil, she

Breathes as though for the first time now

That spring is here

*

Brittle branches become swinging limbs,

Thirsty roots become the tenderest of feet,

Unleafed buds become strands of blonde,

*

This creature from Ovid, this nymph, this Dryad,

This unsylvan Diana becomes a forest in herself,

The very agent of every breeze, a body of skirts,

Shawls, and fabrics that apportions beauty to

The sighing breath of the wind

*

Bored of being a tree, she becomes a woman,

A girl, and takes a spirited tour around Europe

For a year, floating through museums, dancing

With statues, supple footsteps in marble – half-

Heard cantatas on the wind

*

Europa was made solely to delight her,

That flying dove – that agent of sweetened

Disaster, spiriting down boulevards, cobblestones,

Singing to the scent of Belgian coffee, aromatic

Skyline smoked into matter

*

This flightful fantasia that can take me

So far away from where I am sat – to

France, The Alps, Belgium, Senegal –

The sunny and sun-spotted skulduggery

Of Roma where – La Dolce Vita! – she

Will fall into a fountain, slim-waisted,

The water exploding, resonantly, from

The aftershock of Anita Ekberg’s breasts –

Federico Fellini still burbling as he is

Motorboated into his grave.

*

II.

Now The Willow Tree is bored of travelling;

Whimsical for want of whimsy, she decides

To settle somewhere, to give her space to reflect,

Sinking her roots into an art-cum-coffee shop,

Where she paces around, purposefully, like an

Avian-wader, looking for fish to follow the teachings

Of her gullet, only too eager to be swallowed by her

*

Luckily, I am not a fish –

I am a tree sparrow, hopping along

A window ledge, furtively casting artistic

Glances at her, available for purchase in

My next issue of illustrations

*

From the cup of a tulip, I compose my fantasia,

Pencil lead composed from a tulip stem

*

I hold it in my beak, and make detailed

Notes about her – details of breeziness

And lithe branching legs that I will later

Stretch beyond all reason into a set of

Popular French novellas

*

III.

And what does she think of this sparrow,

Making eager notes over here, his face exhumed

From artist’s charcoal – with breadcrumbs for his

Wings? Stood behind her counter, heron-straight,

Heron-composed, until the need to fiddle with

Something in the shop, calls her daring legs away

*

He does not chitter – he does not even issue forth

A dunnock’s dripping of melodic litter – he just sits,

And sips his MOROCCAN MINT TEA, until his muse,

Or the desire to buy yet another book, calls him

Idiotically away

*

IV.

And then to a bay, some wide, glittering,

Sun-knighted bay, where sands can kiss

One’s feet, and it does not matter where

One is, whether in Africa, The Continent,

Or Barry Island,

*

All that matters is that one continues to stand here,

To be nursed by the moment, to be tenderly caressed

By invisible arms, and held by wallpaper patterns of

Hindu Gods, sparkling, glittering, and aurorically panting

To the vividity of God’s Glorious Painting

*

V.

And somewhere, on the other side of the world,

There is a baby lamb just being born, and through

His mucus-bleared eyes, all he can see is sun – sun,

Sun, sun, sun – a world of sun – a light – a corona –

A detonation of innocence beyond the threshold

Of its own awareness

*

And, in about three seconds,

He will be dimly aware that

Some sparrow has just written

About him in a blank verse poem

*

VI.

But The Willow Woman has no such knowledge –

Only her till, her counter, and her marrow bone’s

Worth of musical items

*

And in the warmth of Innocence and Ignorance

Playfully dancing, The Cafe Sonata will draw to

A close, once the coffee machine stops working

*

 

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.

***

 

Poem: The Horse

horse

The world behind the curtains:

That is my world – the domain wherein

I can be king, where else I would be but

A pauper – a man in the gutter reading

Out passages of Chaucer . . .

*

That is my world – yet so few ever see it,

Seeing only curtains – taking the hair of

The horse for the gallop of its heart

*

That horse could gallop along with my heart,

Its hooves trotting in time to the verses of my

Mind, stopping, nobly, humbly, before us,

*

That white blotch on its face – the last stain of

A sad eye that no longer sees – that longs to see,

But is forbidden sight by the sickness of its skull

*

That – that is the spot where I place my hand –

Where I receive and give knowledge – sending

Out and taking in parcels of love and empowerment,

The strangest of strange, war-wizened weapons, that

Only make their bearers feel weaker and weaker

*

I know what it is to be that horse,

To spend my days bathed – by great swathes of space amazed,

To be simple and sad –

Just a horse among horses

*

Then something happens.

A stranger creeps over a stile.

And the pattern of their legs meanders towards you,

And by the unhorsey beats of their horseness, you are

 Swiftly beguiled.

*

“Come!” you say, “I am wild and mild.

I am tame and tragic. I am patient and

Waiting, my hooves hardened by keratin,

And the jealous frustration of thunder.

I am all that you are, slender, unhorse-like

Things.

*

“I come to you for comfort,

Because comfort cannot be got from horses;

I come to you for understanding,

Because understanding is not shared among horses;

I come to you for wisdom,

Not because wisdom cannot be got among horses,

Because wisdom IS what a horse IS –

And, as every horse needs a rider,

So doth my wisdom need a non-horse to ride upon.

*

“But wisdom is pain,” continued the horse,

A tear falling from her face. “Have you not

Seen the saints cry? Have you not heard the

Wise men wailing? Have you not seen mothers

Confined in callousness, yet inside, as crumpled

And broken as the babes that came from them?

*

“This is why I came to you – why I humbly bow my

Head to you, and strive to let your fingers softly search

For the spirit of my soul; for, though we are divided,

Man and beast, and beastly man – your loneliness is

Still the same species as my own – the burden of wanting

To give out a gift everybody needs, but no one cares to

Receive.

*

“For wisdom is not just pain, but the weapon of love,

The dagger that seeks out the sagging point where it

Might carve itself a home.

*

“And, I can see your searching eye, strange, unhorse-like man.

Even as you stroke me, and we share a connection that transcends

Body and body, I can feel your mistrust – your awe of my power –

You are so afraid I could trample you to death with my hooves,

That you almost wish I would, just to get it out the way.

*

“From this I know you know how to love:

When you see an oncoming stampede, you do not run,

But lay down and open up your arms, and call out:

“TAKE ME AS I AM – FOR I AM NOT – I AM NOT AT ALL”

And even when the stampede somehow does not come,

And you suddenly find yourself whisked away to a desert

Plain, and see vultures swooping overhead, you do not flee,

But cry out in a Job-like strain: ‘I AM HERE – EAT OF ME AS

YOU CAN!’

*

“But no beaks come. No greedy, searching talons rend your

Waiting flesh, or carve grooves into that furniture of space

And time you call your skin. Nothing comes. Nothing symphonizes

Your last moments with the desperate flutter of its wings.

*

“And that is what love is: a sacrifice – an offering –

Not a gift given or taken, because it has no need

For giving and taking – that would be gain or loss –

Love can never diminish, though it be given and

Taken – because you cannot diminish what transcends

And underlies the very notion of diminishment.

*

“Can a river be said to give more because it’s banks

Are flooded? Can a volcano be said to make a donation

To the world when it vomits lava to harden into magma

From which new lands and continents will be formed?

*

“No. Because water will always be water,

Though it evaporate and dry up,

And lava will always be lava,

Though it harden into rock.

*

“So, love will eat up those who give themselves to it,

And to those that don’t, it will seek them out like a

Dangerous flood. But, whether love comes to you,

Or you to it, the outcome is the same – you will be

Burned and drowned. Drowned – but now as vast

As the immeasurable ocean. Burned – but now

Hardened into the hope of a seed-waiting new land.”

*

II.

We stood there in silence,

She in her hooves,

And we in our shoes.

*

We had to go soon,

And I could feel the sad tug

Of an aching bond about to be

Loosened.

*

I had given you my hands,

My small doses of love,

Now it was time for us to go,

And, with that thunderclap of

Envy, you returned to your sentinel –

Back to being a horse among horses,

Until that happy moment when someone

Creeps over your stile, perhaps to understand

You all over again.

*

III.

I can no sooner leave my field than you can, horse,

Unless farmers come to cart me away, and turn my

Idiosyncrasies into glue. For my life is my field, its

Demarcations and boundaries; and, I too, stand within

Its confines, just a being among beings, until that fleeting

Moment when someone reaches out their hand, and I can

Feel they understand – and I stand then in patient ferocity,

And drink in all that I can, because I know they will go soon,

And I will return to being misunderstood – a horseless,

Horseless man.

*

IV.

But it will not always be such.

One day I will build a home

Upon the making of such

Moments.

*

And I will be happy.

And my happiness will stride out,

Clumsy and sticky, like a newborn foal;

All that is inchoate and formless will be

As palpable and beautiful as a magical

Crystal.

*

And my house!

What a house!

*

I can see it.

I can feel its masonry growing upon me,

But I cannot yet describe it.

*

So, I can walk away from that field now with my friend,

Knowing that, as I leave behind timelessness to commit myself

To the future, I am somehow, magnificently, walking towards

My home:

*

The home where happiness will have its day,

And then have it all over again.

*