Those Romans – they got it wrong.
Couldn’t believe that a useless woman
Could torch their almighty cities,
Batter their legions to pulp.
So you see, they created a monster,
harridan fit to be hated.
But it wasn’t me.
I spent my days
Doing appropriate things.
Keeping my children tidy,
Then he died. And the Romans came.
They raped my daughters. They flogged me.
They stole our land.
So I was in love with hate,
With the scent of blood,
With dead piled high for Adraste in the screaming grove.
I remember those Roman women:
They were brought before me
To consider the matter of ransom.
But they looked down their high-born noses
At this loud barbarian
And told me to ‘let them go
Lest worse should befall me.’
Worse? Than my daughters’ terror,
Than the tearing metal
Slashing across my shoulders?
I arranged them like flowers, neat for Adraste’s pleasure,
A ring of red roses staked to the hungry
earth. After that my daughters were silent.
I became what they made me, those Romans.
A fury from out of their nightmares.
And now I am what you have made me.
A decorous matron, promoting another empire.
I and my daughters, here by the constant Thames.
They still have their legions, those Caesars,
Controlling the world.
By Sally Roberts Jones
I am sitting in a strange room listening
For the wrong baby. I don’t love
This baby. She is sleeping a snuffly
Roseate, bubbling sleep; she is fair;
She is a perfectly acceptable child.
I am afraid of her. If she wakes
She will hate me. She will shout
Her hot midnight rage, her nose
Will stream disgustingly and the perfume
Of her breath will fail to enchant me.
To her I will represent absolute
Abandonment. For her it will be worse
Than for the lover cold in lonely
Sheets; worse than for the woman who waits
A moment to collect her dignity
Beside the bleached bone in the terminal ward.
As she rises sobbing from the monsterous land
Stretching for milk-familiar comforting,
She wil find me and between us two
It will not come. It will not come.
by Gillian Clarke
from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)
The last leaves
Defiant in their rigor mortis.
Slow trickle of the sinus,
And yew hedges iced with it.
The stare of the farmer’s wife
As the young girl behind the till
Hands back the wrong change.
by Suzanne Iuppa
The year is ending
As it always ends
Rejoice and forget your sins;
The rain is falling
As it always falls,
And the sea comes rolling in.
The sun is rising
As it always rises.
Unfold the new year plan;
The wind is blowing
As it always blows
Fresh hope from man to man.
by Alan Dickson
Now she’s ninety I walk through the local park
where, too cold, the usual peacocks do not screech
and neighbouring lights come on before it’s dark.
Dare I affirm to her, so agèd and so frail,
that from one pale dot of peacock’s sperm
spring forth all the colours of a peacock’s tail?
I do. But she like the sibyl says, ‘I would die’;
then complains. ‘This winter I’m half dead, son.’
And because it’s true I want to cry.
Yet must not (although only Nothing keeps)
for I inhabit a white coat not a black
even here – and am not qualified to weep.
So I speak of small approximate things,
of how I saw, in the park, four flamingoes
standing, one-legged on ice, heads beneath wings.
By Dannie Abse
from Welsh Retrospective
Interesting fact: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.