Plenty of priests
but no poets
in the family,
until their grey day
with his father’s night;
and a sad-skinned
a drab mountain of play,
and found silver words budded
in a deep pocket
a voice shining
along the thin
gold of a stream,
an old story scooped
from a quarry of hurt,
a black page unfolding
in the cave of his life.
LISTENING TO GLADDIE
When I really think of it,
I don’t think of the dead language
Of the poets,
Or the group of Learners
(Clutching their slim files and sipping half lagers)
In the Brynymor lounge,
After a night class;
And I don’t think of a road sign daubed
In a dawn or dark night of student anger;
And I don’t think of a cottage
Stuck in a patchwork of landscape green,
Its roof charred and smoking to a skeletal protest.
When I think of it,
I think of two boys,
Sitting on the back wall of a garden,
Listening to Gladdie,
Ashen-faced and skinny,
Scolding her afternoon drunk
Of a husband called Stuie
With the wondrous weather of her words:
Her ancient voice
Like a mad wind that could crack the trees,
Like the loud, slapping waves of the dock-side sea;
Then, later, softer, almost humble,
Like the ‘school assembly’ prayer
Of the priest, standing like Dracula,
By a shovelled hole in Danygraig Cemetery;
Like the nervous, nursery mumble
Of the scrum of pigeons on the shed roof of Falvey’s.
And Dai Russ whispering,
“That’s Welsh” to me.
(for Vince Clemente)
At the back of the house, on a warm day –
With the blue plastic-covered seats removed –
Using a dye, I stain three wooden chairs;
With a cloth, I paint well-worn furniture:
Old skeletons of kitchen cosiness.
My stroke transfers the tin-bottled newness:
The pine wood darkens, accepts the brown blood;
The varnish smell vinegars the odd breath.
Rough grain, scratches and knots come up richly:
Like tea-stain blemishes, or large face-moles,
Or the ripe shells of leathery conkers.
My cloth is a slice of bread that’s gravied.
They stand like stiff statements of emptiness.
The empty chairs of Van Gogh come to mind:
Both finished in December – Child Christ’s month.
Vincent’s yellow chair, painted in daylight,
With prepared tobacco, impotent pipe,
Attempts to portray domestic calmness.
Gaugin’s, painted by night, is an armchair;
Darker and stronger in green and red tones.
It boasts two books and a lighted candle:
A bright symbol of confident maleness.
Both chairs a foretelling of future blood.
The unknown carpenter, who made the chairs,
Was content that his work offered comfort.
But these empty chairs make one think of death.
I recall The Black Chair, the empty Chair.
That Hedd Wyn won in Nineteen Seventeen:
His poem, posted five weeks earlier,
Was written on the subject The Hero.
Hedd Wyn was not to hear the trumpet call;
The summoned poet had been killed in France:
Ellis Evans, Welsh soldier, was dead;
His life a mere line to his white peace.
The large gathering sat in shocked silence;
The ceremony’s Chair was draped in black:
Like some charred work of art proclaiming grief.
The cloak of death served only emptiness.
My grandmother had a favourite chair;
Wooden, it had arms and was painted blue.
It stood by her single bed and wardrobe;
Each night she sat in it: to take tablets;
Maybe consider her eighty-two years.
She was lying by it when they found her:
Dying from a stroke, hypothermia.
I saw it weeks after her funeral,
In a corner of a relative’s room:
A reminder of absence caused by death;
Emptiness skilfully sculptured in wood.
I think of wood growing in a forest:
The slow image of spreading bark and green.
And then of the fine art of carpentry.
As someone made these chairs that I revive,
Someone fashioned the necessary Cross;
Like fallen forests veining underground,
The Cross has stained man’s conscience with darkness.
A cross, like a chair, is commissioned work:
So much required wood, essential tools,
Estimated hours, careful labour,
And the waste: the sawdust that’s shed like blood.
Existence is the nailing to the wood:
We move from emptiness to emptiness.
The afternoon heat dries the seatless chairs.
Hours later, I shine them up like shoes
That have been wax-skinned with dark tan-polish;
My wife scrubs clean the grubby, plastic blue.
We position them around the table
(The old table they now match in colour);
They wait for us to fill their emptiness.
With soap and hot water I try to cleanse
My nicotined nails, my stained butcher’s hands.
Something has left her and it’s bigger than her grief,
More hurting than his wardrobe of stale clothes.
The bathroom tap, she feels, requires fixing,
Its dripping seems like weeping in her mind.
She drives the car he cared for like a mistress,
To classes where she learns to train her thoughts
In poems that, it seems, don’t need to rhyme;
She always wears, for him, some thing that’s black.
The children come with problems and for loans
And question why she’s always out so much.
Their comments always scorch her flights of freedom,
She microwaves a meal that’s meant for one.
It’s awkward with her friends, they’re still in couples,
Their small talk bandages what’s left unsaid.
She turns the T.V. on and turns it off,
Picks up the mobile phone but does not talk.
Her husband stares from photos placed on walls
That he once cursed with one more lick of paint.
He seems too much alive with careful smiles,
Holding her hand as if he is in love.
She opens curtains on a sudden sun
And stares down on a lawn long overgrown.