Diver-Bird by Mike Jenkins

People sat up from skin-baking or shade-seeking,
children on flabby lilos stopped squall-splashing:
not a pointy snorkeller, but a diver-bird.
'Duck!' someone called, as he dipped
and disappeared underwater, emerging
liquid minutes later as no human could.
'Guillemot' I said assured, chuckling.
 
Grey-black, shiny as wet seaweed
his head intent for rush of a shoal,
no periscope or radar could equal
that vision: beak needling fish
leading a feathery thread up and down.
I tried to swim out, follow him,
make clicking noises to draw his attention:
he ignored my performance.
 
Returning home, in reference books,
I realised 'guillemot' was just as absurd.
He was elusive here as he'd been  
in the bay, no silhouette fitting.
Yet I knew he'd keep re-surfacing
further and further away, stitching
more firmly because I couldn't find a name.
 
 
by Mike Jenkins
from This House, My Ghetto 

Additional information: Here are some fun facts about the guillemot.

Laughter Tangled In Thorn by Mike Jenkins

Dressed like a child
for our ritual Sunday afternoon
pilgrimage to the hillside:
your pear-shaped hood,
scarf wound like a snake
and red ski-boots dragged along
like grown-up things worn for a dare.

When I laugh, I don't mean it to hurt.
It is the brother of the laugh
at the end of our laugh-making -
rigid bones melting into blood.

The moor grass has turned
into a frosty yellow, its green
gone deep into hibernation.
We crunch mud, step streams,
in games which strip us of years
like the trees have been
of their leaves. The water
and your green eyes
share the only motion.

You see a red berry
and call it a ladybird.
I think of your city upbringing;
the seasons being passing strangers
through Belfast streets
where you cadged rides from the ice.

When the brook's chatter is snow-fed,
your laughter is tangled in thorn.
You discover an ice sculpture
mounted on a spine of reed,
and call it 'Teeth and Jaws'.
The light of your words
travels through it.

High above Merthyr, mountain lapping mountain.
You are amazed at the rarified sunlight!
When you speak, the numb streets
are startled. We leave the childhood
of the moorland, to grow taller
with a tiredness which is the sister
of when we lie, translucent and still,
on the single spine of the bed.

by Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke

Additional information: Mike Jenkins (born 1953) is a Welsh poet, story writer and novelist writing in English. He taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for some two decades before that. At the end of the 2008–2009 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time, capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. He continues to live in Merthyr Tydfil, and has done so for over 30 years. He is also the father of Plaid Cymru politician Bethan Jenkins and journalist Ciaran Jenkins.

Mouthy by Mike Jenkins

Sborin, sir!

We’re always doin racism.

It’s that or death, sir.

Yew’re morbid, yew are,

or gotta thing about the blacks.

 

But sir mun! Carn we do summin interestin

like Aids or watch a video o’ Neighbours?

Mrs Williams Media upstairs ave got em.

 

Oh no! Not another poem!

They’re always crap, rubbish

not enough action, don’ rhyme.

 

Yer, sir, this one’s got language in it!

It’s all about sex!

Yew’re bloody kinky yew are!

I’m gettin my Mam up yer.

 

Sir! We aven done work frages,

on’y chopsin in groups.

We ewsed t’do real English

when we woz younger,

exercises an fillin in gaps.

 

Sir mun! Don’ keep askin me

wha we should do,

yew’re the bloody teacher!

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Graffiti Narratives


Fun fact: The accent and inflections here are indicative of the Merthyr style of Welsh-English or ‘Wenglish’ dialect. Jenkins taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for approximately two decades prior to that. At the end of the 2008–9 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. An extract from one of Mike Jenkins’s poems has been used as part of the public realm regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil town centre.

Hywel and Blodwen by Idris Davies

Where are you going to, Hywel and Blodwen,

With your eyes as sad as your shoes?

We are going to learn a nimble language

By the waters of the Ouse.

 

We are trampling through Gloucester and through Leicester,

We hope we shall not drop,

And we talk as we go of the Merthyr streets

And a house at Dowlais Top.

 

We have triads and englyns from pagan Dyfed

To brace us in the fight,

And three or four hundred Methodist hymns

To sing on a starless night.

 

We shall grumble and laugh and trudge together

Till we reach the stark North Sea

And talk till we die of Pantycelyn

And the eighteenth century.

 

We shall try to forget the Sunday squabbles,

And the foreign magistrate,

And the stupid head of the preacher’s wife,

And the broken iron gate.

 

So here we say farewell and wish you

Less trouble and less pain,

And we trust you to breed a happier people

Ere our blood flows back again.

 

by Idris Davies


There was a Welsh language opera based on the same Welsh story as this poem. Blodwen is an opera in three acts composed in 1878 by Dr Joseph Parry to a Welsh libretto by Richard Davies. It was the first opera written in the Welsh language. I just mention it as I doubt many people know of it.