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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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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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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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July is a slow river.

It slides behind a mirror sky

Smoothed by silence and bees

A breeze of roses and sweeping swallows,

A sweet weight of honeysuckle.

The hay is cut between rains.

It lies in long warm lines.

Certainty and uncertainty

Is what we live with.

Storing up what keeps us.

Everything is harvested in its own time.

The western wall carries the sun’s warmth

Well past the white skies of midnight.

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THE LEDGERS

I have been collecting the names

of demons from dusty ledgers,

Each a fossilised passion or despair.

Every one a poet and a diva,

Conceited, numerous as neurons

In the brains of man.

Some starved, some sated.

It is the nameless ones

We should be fearing most,

Whose attributes and legions are unlisted.

It is they that twist the fibres of time and space,

That lead us down reasonable paths

To utter foolishness.

They bear the bitterness of millennia being ignored,

Sidelined by brassy, golden heroes.

Volcanic, metamorphic, sedimentary –

They constitute, certain, a slow wearing bedrock.

They know too well the mountains and horizons we long for

Are all relentless and prone to murder.

Dressed in orifices of delight and disgust,

The greatest demon is the one that teaches

That there are no such things as demons,

Denying all history, mocking the laboured divisions

Of day and night, and reasons why,

Filleting the intellect from all shining breath.

They are well-beloved now in sharp suits,

Eloquent in Greek and Latin, they dream in Sanskrit,

Swear in Aramaic, count in Japanese.

They name and number every combination

Of moral gymnastics.

They are masters of the callisthenics of judgement,

Ballroom dancers of complete seduction.

They are the best of us, who best us.

We, the sly self-harmers of evolution,

Ingenious inventors of delusional druggery.

They are dressed in war and holiness

( as we could tell the difference).

All they need is a little time, a little understanding.

‘Sit you down, take us through your thinking.

We will listen.’

Non-judgmental, professional, just taking

One or two salient notes.

Paring off slices of soul for real estate

At bargain rates, a place to retire to,

With excellent views.

‘But look’, they say,

‘We are nothing

But patterns of thought.

Born, nurtured, clothed,

Given names.

Exercise us,

we will become domesticated,

The new normal.

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SOLSTICED

.

Garth Bank is a mind

Resting in silence.

.

Bryn and Y Garn

Become domed and spacious.

Valley rivers make no noise-

The whole world stands still.

.

The cold of eternal space

Touches the edge

Of our certainty.

.

So we cling

To an ephemeral fullness

And watch a blue distance

Grow warm in haze,

.

Nested in comfortable notions,

The children of cracked worlds.

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A CUCKOO IN THE NEST

A cuckoo see-saws in the sunny dregs of May.

All the fractured warriors, pale and bloodless,

Sink into the seed-filled soil.

The winners and losers are the ones

Who laid out these fine roads.

So we can trust no other paths

Through the oak deep woods and sun-warmed cliffs.

They have buried their gold here and there

Like dinosaur eggs, cold hope and useless,

Without the thrusting love of bees.

We shall walk among the dead and borrow their dreams.

Bred for an ostentatious perfection

The roses strangled by a sea of happy weeds.

Yet we take the rose for our badge:

The blowsy, failing, propped and preening dream

Of old men and fanatics, and fight the weeds together.

The cuckoo mocks the sunny morning.

Innocence supplanted by an unbuilt guile.

The world see-saws on precipitance.

The stars, at least, remain, untouched

By this busy arrogance of being.

How many times shall I sing the same song,

O, Enitharmon? Until the long grey rains

Wash all footsteps away?

Gronw, Gronw, that stone over your heart shall not save you.

It will be laid out: the failings of desire and the roads of gold.

It shall all be sundered by the returning soul,

The tides of people, a song of weeds.

Sweet smelling idiots, the tiered hierarchies of perfect moments.

We have longed for its return – the resonant, ephemeral cuckoo.

But now its constant echo palls. It is no bard, but pure politician.

It ousts the futures of others, counts away choices, one by one.

The roads that are reasonable, are inevitable.

You had the choice a long time ago, if you recall, to be a hero

Or to fall safely into those ruts of good and equitable habit.

We have been charmed down from the tree now,

Given a voice, and we must fill the role assigned us.

To heave the future from its nest, watch it crack

Against the stones, and pray for food to still sustain us.

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A LIGHT TOUCH

Every demon knows the trick with butterfly’s wings.

Tesserae, perturbation.

The small becoming great.

An oceanic instability, a gram shifting,

A star dissolving into endlessness,

A thought let loose and floating,

A pinch of plutonium.

Weights and measures,

The weighing-up of Newtonian Laws:

Every demon is a mathematician at heart,

At home in the seventh hell of statistics.

Every scintilla collected, each iota measured,

Each ember sustained with warm breath.

Last straws gathered and categorised.

For everything begins with an itch,

A discomfort, a desire for other.

The angelic hosts slay ninety-nine

Point nine nine of the unrighteous.

The demons nurture the resistant few.

They know that majorities are powerless.

That it is the minority that always spark a new inferno,

That say: why? That plot and saw through the bars,

That dig out the mortar with their fingernails.

The invisible, the insignificant, the disregarded, the despised.

The debris of universes drifting together.

The small becomes great. No blame.

The well has run dry. Nothing furthers.

Seek elsewhere for survival.

The fittest have slaughtered each other.

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Take away the words

( that give stories to the silences of doubt)

And there is still the song of the river,

The roaring in the pines,

The light rolling over the ever-changing hills.

Mist rises and the clouds roll past.

There is no need to fill the seconds,

That are already so full of mystery,

With anything other than this.

We are ghosts

Unless we feed on this glory.

We are starved of succour,

Only feeding on our own reasons.

Offer your silence, now and then,

In the early morning, in the dusk.

Now and then, listen

To how eternity sings.

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