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A lot of my writing this year has been towards an art/word project inspired by The Black Book of Carmarthen, a small, handwritten manuscript containing poems collected over a lifetime by one person. It is the oldest known manuscript written in the Welsh language. A mixture of ancient bardic poems and prayers, it is at once mundane and transcendent, simple and utterly baffling. The words that come to me are either reflecting some of the imagery or subjects of the fifty odd pieces, or dwell on the nature of the author and the continuity of language and writing. The art works I am making mainly combine parts of the manuscript pages overlain with my own woodblock prints from decades ago. There will, probably, be a book that combines text with image. It is in no way a translation of the original text. It is one artist’s reflections of the magical mirror and timelessness of ancient books.

MER KERTEV KEIN (Black Book)

(The marrow of fine songs)

It is a river

Uncurling in caves,

A white torrent on dark slick rocks.

It is a shoreline cave where mystery is born by echoes,

Far from comfort, where opposites couple in the roaring of it.

Spanning centuries each word tumbles combining elements.

Shadow worlds are dressed in time to shatter and rebuild the fragments.

Oh, speckle-breasted thrush,

Thrice the song to sing.

Morning rain.

Rain of morning.

Dawn storm.

Eternal song.

A river where meaning slips like fishes,

A flash, a flank, and gone.

The next ripple, the next wave, the scintillating light.

Umbral echoes.

It dances from sound to sound.

A juggler slipping from stone to stone

In the midstream rush. Where next? Where next?

And the foaming roar of it:

The world dancing elements and prophecy

And the arc of words cast up and caught, too fast for the eye.

A stream, a stream, of passion itself.

Sound clothed in the names of things,

The naked, naked sound.

A river of God’s being,

A bowstring caught and released,

The mouth’s harp

And its breath drum rhythm song.

There are spirits here

There are ghosts

Where I see these landscapes,

Familiar, sunlit, wild

I have never been.

I am haunted by the names

And by the meanings

Within the meanings I know.

Other pages in other hands:

Mirrored, pushing through.

I am become a palimpsest of prayer-

The angels with clawed feet

Offering golden torcs.

A language of waves,

Of echoing empty hills.

My eyes water the seeds of words,

Grow vast forests.

The dance of sounds:

Lost timeless for a while,

We dance and dance.

The memories are not ours

That lodge in our hearts.

My soul fragments to the four quarters

As though I am already buried.

There is a cold wind from the north.

A woman who is not a woman

Moves at the edges of my sight

Whispering rhymes with berry-stained fingertips.

One of Three and Three in One.

Before Eden we quake.

The Tower was too high,

The Tree was too bright.

The Flaming Sword

That drove us outwards

We stole for shovels and mattocks.

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HARD RAIN

Hard rain washing the world away.

Leaves fall through cooling air.

The gutters are singing an autumn song.

Rivers wake from summer’s sleep.

I was dreaming of eagles and their turquoise voice

In the days where darkness drums down more suddenly

And the cold cannot any longer be shrugged off.

I was dreaming of a path that was a spiral

And a spiral that was a mirror.

I stand before a silent oak.

Its name is eternal song,

Retribution, its door.

Its mouth is darkness.

In the end we do not know what matters.

This curl of sound, this exhalation of breath

Might be enough for a universe to be complete.

I study the taste of this turquoise,

Turn it between cold fingers

Then walk into the hill ( for all hills are doorways).

If you follow the hare, the path shall lie

Flat as grass before a strong wind.

If you follow the deer, the path shall be

Dappled and filled with birdsong.

If you follow the otter, the path will be

Silver and smooth as moonlight.

If you follow the dead,

Returning to their places,

You shall find your path

To womb and fireside

And questions: why and whereto.

All the warm singing halls

Lost in mist and blood.

All the familiar is a lie.

The world is utter strangeness

And the stars, known but unnamed.

I have been a trowel, an eagle, a pen.

What has been put together, falls apart.

These dreams you do not own.

Each is borrowed to keep you warm.

The path is a name you do not know.

This world is all the clue you will get.

Wrapped and unwrapped, each day a reminder.

There is no greater fool than a poet,

No greater truth than the lie of poetry.

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Tree of Prophecy

TREE OF PROPHECY

He is a collector of voices.

Here is a collection of voices.

Rhythms of breathed sound,

A sealed moment, the dead

Still living here, whispering.

On the edge of a void uncrossable,

A wriggling wall of prophecy.

Membranes of prayer,

Shading itself, a tented haunting.

A tree shaken bare by unbearable noise

Re-inhabited by a million singing souls,

( the birds of dawn and endless, endless sunsets).

One will come roaring, one will come.

Black words will fly out,

A challenge of why and how and by what right.

Trespassing and lost, though strangely mirroring.

Ashes endlessly rekindled, the taste of starlight.

Swept away, though locked to anchored word,

A world here and gone, the apparel of eternity.

We clothe the tunes of emptiness

And seek to learn the reasons why.

The sun has passed, the birds are singing.

The storm is coming, a dark cloud through the long wood.

These clear-eyed beautiful boys

Riding their jeeps, cradling their holy guns.

They have won, whether they live or die.

Certain and blessed, spilling seed and blood.

It is the way it has always been:

The bitter tongue and languid hand,

The sharp old men whispering reasons

Goading on righteous atrocity,

And the doe-eyed compliance of their girls.

Unshakable promises, the beauty

Of the certainty of a righteous death.

The will of gods ploughing the land,

Burying the bones again and again.

Warriors of the shattered dawn.

Blood feeding the roots again.

Eternal fire, eternal hunger.

Spent shells of glory,

Again, again, again.

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WAR CRY

A furnace dawn.

It will come on

To rain tears later.

Why are we always

Led by fools?

.

It is not gold, but spelter.

Not ore, but slag.

The forge of beauty is cold.

The taste of the morning air

Is bitter.

.

Two swans, white and dancing,

Fly low following the river westwards.

A sorrowful sky full of rain

Will cause more leaves to fall.

.

All our roads are cracked and failing.

They have borne too much,

Never thanked nor mended.

We watch weeds grow tall in crevices.

.

Within the hills

The druids and saints

Are turned to stone.

The names of things carved and fading

Where sheep are grazing.

.

There will be peace at last

When we are all gone.

First frosts will kill

The last rose.

.

The gods of creation

Sought perfection

And so always failed.

They have taught us sorrow,

The fleeting smile of time

And space.

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The sky rolls out from them, these hills

that witness all that moves round here.

Catching the last light in shadowed hands;

Sending breezes billowing through the rolling valley oaks.

They drop their white veils and dream of prophecies

That do not end in utter silence.

Their answer is in streams and tumbled stones

That last almost forever, almost.

And catch and keep the hearts of small and nested things,

To keep them safe until it is time to take them back to night

And to that other dreaming.

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CYMRU, IF I NAME THEM

If I name them shall I make them mine,

Those hills that rise and fall in cloudy distances?

Shall I take them into my folded self,

Safe memorised and belonged?

Will they, then, wake enough

To acknowledge this time’s short passage,

Allow a fleeting sun-warmed moment of life

To be counted and valued?

Is there then enough silence in them

To quench the rabble tides of complaint?

Enough sobriety and bliss to dismiss

The well-worn excuses of failure and exile?

We are eagles weeping in the crowns of eternal oaks,

Waiting for the one who made us thus,

To come and set us free, to give us,

One last time, our form and status,

To let us die loved in our own place.

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RAGNAROK: OUR PLACES BOOKED

Such a perfect still sky, cloudless.

Radiating heat to infinity,

Darkening by the second,

A touch of pink on hill and tree.

Yesterday another piece of heaven fell to earth.

We have news that our betters create

A new constellation of stars,

A new heaven of beneficent watchers,

Angels of rare metal to stand by our heads,

To stand by our feet,

To cover us with their wings,

To watch over us without cease.

The wars go on.

They are boring wars, small wars,

No heroes, no grand victories.

A death of cities, a death of nations.

The death of women and children,

The death of hope, the death of goodness.

We will be safe, though.

Our leaders have said.

They spend their time

Nesting these notions,

Thinking for the future, they say.

While bits of heaven fall to earth

And small things die of cold in the late frosts,

And there is so little, so little

That changes,

Millennia after millennia.

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GIVEN TIME

Given time

All the stones return.

.

Companionship, the soft moss

That greens broken voices.

.

We are accustomed to abandonment

Where roads turn back

Leaving the high hills to themselves.

.

We are accustomed to the tides

Of disdain from those

Who cannot see our wealth.

.

We breathe free in cloud and soft rains,

In the glance of sun,

In the silent press of snow.

.

What we lack

Has been given away freely.

Nothing of worth

Has been lost.

.

From the darkening skies

A single feather falls.

The stones are silent.

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It is not the roads that we have lost

That leave us blinkered and aimless.

It is the songs.

It is not the gold we have given away

That leaves us impoverished and hungry.

It is the songs.

Left silent without even echoes.

The body’s rhythm stuttered,

The heart’s reason stultified.

We have gathered, huddled in silent cities,

Upright, efficient, vague and unmoved.

No tides of song, no roaring winds of song,

No rising hearts, no heat.

Never lost in the making of names.

Never tangled in the fleeting syllables.

No lilt, no catch, no net, no praise.

No meaning that dives deep below meaning

And feeds the spirits of the dead and of other places.

No offered breath, no chant that infuses hours with timelessness.

The electric hum of compliance.

The drone of automatic equilibrium.

White noise of dissolving passion.

Quietly waiting an end to tedious static.

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THE OLD TALIESIN

He does not have to raise his voice –

Silence comes with it like the tide on the shore.

Bent-backed, i see his strong staff, serpent-wrapped.

It is still a tree of fruits, sweet and bitter:

A crab apple scented with autumns, hard with frost

And the seeing of too much sorrow.

I see his bright brow, bald as the moon.

He is being chased again through the halls of the world

By another who shall not relent.

And he will change form again,

On wide, sunlit oceans again,

But not until the three drops congeal in truth,

Not until the chariot wheel is cracked,

Not until a new axle pin is shaped and smoothed.

A year and a day,

And we shall all change places.

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