Poems in Agenda

The following poems appeared in Agenda Magazine's Welsh edition in the spring of 2009.

This one appeared in their online supplement:

Decimal Five

When our mother hid your wallet -
and her purse - it did not delay you long.
You emptied our tobacco tins
of the coins we kept for Airfix and comics,
spent them in the Rose and Crown.
Silver, newly decimal, bitter copper,
a tang of Golden Virginia.

So whenever now by chance
I catch the blue bite of roll-ups
at the back of my throat,
I recall the nightly jingle of your keys,
your loose change,
the dregs and butt ends breathed
across our bunk beds,
your sing-song low rebuke
as you found us both awake.

Of course, I bear no grudge -
bend across to kiss you,
all smart and faintly comic
in your funeral suit, the spotted tie
and waistcoat we'd never seen you wear.
At your flat after, we discuss your wit,
your misogyny, over orphaned pints
of Crow Valley draw your sisters' disapproval.

As did the next:

Friends of Gledhow Valley Woods

This green lung has friends to help it breathe.
Last night, a bat walk and tomorrow they will dig
turfs into the wildflower meadow, leave
a litter-pick as lighter work.

Once they could fill a skip in a single weekend.
One Friend, retired, thins the branches
for a better view of the Balancing Lake,
another keeps the key for the bath-house
at the bottom of the bank. Seventeenth Century,
mentioned in Thoresby, it lay in open fields
then and long after. The Friends share sepia
photographs of cattle grazing where mixed wood
fills the fields between the beech plantations;
of stock driven to Harehills for slaughter
along a grid of ginnels, soot-black streets.

To see the wood for the trees they fell some
to admit the light, permit the boys to build
their dens, slide on boards across the beech mast.
We pick blackberries, rub the toes of our boots
across the bench plaques to read the names
of donors, dead dog-walkers, the suburban mourned.

The Friends can fund their immediate plans
for clearing and planting, for bridges over the beck.
They deserve more time, more hands, our children's thanks.

And the following appeared in the printed edition.

Castell y Bere

Lost in a long valley it melts
like a pill on its tongue of rock,
dissolves into secret, shy defiance
behind a surcoat skirt of screening trees.

That sort of boy, we sought it out,
drawn by the dull bass of its drum towers,
disappointed how little there was to see
after our damp nights on those sour hills.

Returning after many years I found
my memory wanting. More there now
than met the eye. More than the low
remembered ramparts, the view

of Craig yr Aderyn, Cader's perpetual frown
and the determined D-shaped towers folded
to form an empty fist. The most prominent of then
rode proud as a prow as though to part the sea.

We looked back from its deck along its waist and stern.
One soft voice lilting, settling incessantly on the penultimate
stress, spoke of Llewellyn, how well he had lived.

A boy from the south country, sharing after seven centuries
the sonority of the language, little of its sense,
I agreed, admired with him the emporer's old clothes.

And a last one, like the first here, about my Dad.

Return to Catterick

Men went to Catraeth, keen their war-band, pale mead their portion, it was poison.
Three hundred under orders to fight and, after celebration, silence.
Though they went to churches for shriving, true is the tale, death confronted them.

From Y Gododdin, Aneirin c.600 AD. Translated by Joseph Clancy.

You always wanted to return
to the place you'd cried yourself to sleep
your first night away from home.

Drilling in the drizzle of a parade ground square
you'd found your feet, found your aim,
formed an enduring fondness for beer.

You always wanted to return.
We discussed it in bars, in my back room,
your vague plan to visit Yorkshire once again,
where I had followed so much later,
to study, not to march, to study and had stayed.

'Men went to Catraeth,' to feed
black ravens on the wall of the fort,
to slaughter and were slain.
I knew Aneirin from the anthologies,
the archaeology of an unlearned language.
'Men went to Catraeth,' paid for their poison
and after celebration, silence.

Shipped to Cyprus, Suez,
the edge of empire's last small wars,
marriage, two sons, assisted passage
('Ten Pound Poms'), divorce -
You never did return to Catterick
to realise your final promise.

For your heart called time and stopped
like a clock on your last Cornish holiday.
And at your commital in our common valley
your second family and your first
did not dare to play Gwa Hoddiad,
lest everybody cry.