Heron at Port Talbot by Gillian Clarke

Snow falls on the cooling towers
delicately settling on cranes.
Machinery’s old bones whiten; death
settles with its rusts, its erosions.

Warning of winds off the sea
the motorway dips to the dock’s edge.
My hands tighten on the wheel against
the white steel of the wind.

Then we almost touch, both braking flight,
bank on the air and feel that shocking
intimacy of near-collision,
animal tracks that cross in snow.

I see his living eye, his change of mind,
feel pressure as we bank, the force
of his beauty. We might have died
in some terrible conjunction.

The steel town’s sulphurs billow
like dirty washing. The sky stains
with steely inks and fires, chemical
rustings, salt-grains, sand under snow.

And the bird comes, a surveyor
calculating space between old workings
and the mountain hinterland, archangel
come to re-open the heron-roads,

meets me at an inter-section
where wind comes flashing off water
interrupting the warp of the snow
and the broken rhythms of blood.

by Gillian Clarke
from Letter from a Far Country (Gwasg Gomer, 1982)

A recording of Gillian Clarke discussing the poem’s inspiration and reciting the poem itself at 0:44

Additional information: The steel works plant in Port Talbot covers a large area of the coastline near the southern area of the town. The plant’s two blast furnaces and the steel production plant buildings are major landmarks visible from both the M4 motorway and the South Wales Main Line when passing through the town. The air when passing is notable suffice to say.

Here is an analysis of the poem.

If you’re reading this on Boxing Day 2021, when this post was published, I hope you had a nice Christmas Day (for those who celebrate it) yesterday.

Friesian Bull by Gillian Clarke

He blunders through the last dream

of the night. I hear him, waking.

A brick and concrete stall, narrow

as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars

between her trap and his small yard.

A froth of slobbered hay droops

from the stippled muzzle. In the slow

rolling mass of his skull his eyes

surface like fish bellies.

 

He is chained while they swill his floor.

His stall narrows to rage. He knows

the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.

Remembered summer haysmells reach him,

a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-

loaded winds. The thundering seed

blows up the Dee breathing of plains,

of cattle wading in shallows.

His crazy eyes churn with their vision.

 

By Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)


Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.

Cardiff Elms by Gillian Clarke

Until this summer

throught the open roof of the car

their lace was as light as rain

against the burning sun.

On a rose-coloured road

they laid their inks,

knew exactly, in the seed,

where in the sky they would reach

percise parameters.

 

Traffic-jammed under a square

of perfect blue I thirst

for their lake’s fingering

shadow, trunk by trunk arching

a cloister between the parks

and pillars of a civic architecture,

older and taller than all of it.

 

Heat is a salt encrustation.

Walls square up to the sky

without the company of leaves

or the town life of birds.

At the roadside this enormous

firewood, elmwood, the start

of some terrible undoing.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from Letters from a Far Country (1982)