Always the Ocean by Mike Jenkins

For those us born by the ocean

there will always be a listening,

an ear close to the ground

like an animal trailing.

.

I remember one night

I couldn’t see anything of water

and I was sober as the stars,

yet below the tracked paving-stones

and gushing up through cracks…

benches tilted, clouds rocked.

I was a vessel, filled full of it.

.

This town at the valley’s head

I’ve adopted or it’s adopted me:

wakes fan from the simple phrases

and often laughter can erode

the most resistant expressions.

Despite this, I’m following the river

along our mutual courses:

.

to the boy on a storm-beach

hopping from boulder to boulder

trying to mimic a mountain-goat;

to the young man sitting in a ring

of perfumed smoke of dolphins

plucked by the sleight-fingered sea.

.

.

By Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Blaen Cwrt by Gillian Clarke

You ask how it is. I will tell you.

There is no glass. The air spins in

The stone rectangle. We warm our hands

With apple wood. Some of the smoke

Rises against the ploughed, brown field

As a sign to our neighbours in the

Four folds of the valley that we are in.

Some of the smoke seeps through the stones

Into the barn where it curls like fern

On the walls. Holding a thick root

I press my bucket through the surface

Of the water, lift it brimming and skim

The leaves away. Our fingers curl on

Enamel mugs of tea, like ploughmen.

The stones clear in the rain

Giving their colours. It’s not easy.

There are no brochure blues or boiled sweet

Reds. All is ochre and earth and cloud-green

Nettles tasting sour and the smells of moist

Earth and sheep’s wool. The wattle and daub

Chimney hood has decayed away, slowly

Creeping to dust, chalking the slate

Floor with stories. It has all the first

Necessities for a high standard

Of civilised living: silence inside

A circle of sound, water and fire,

Light on uncountable miles of mountain

From a big, unpredictable sky,

Two rooms, waking and sleeping,

Two languages, two centuries of past

To ponder on, and the basic need

To work hard in order to survive.

.

By Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer) 1978

.

Additional information:

When her children were young, Clarke bought and renovated an old, ruined small holding called Blaen Cwrt in Talgarreg, south Ceredigion, where she now lives, and which she often figures as her poetic ‘milltir sgwâr’ (square mile). […] Reminiscing on that time and that house as formative to the emergence of her poetic voice, Clarke recalls that ‘to “work hard” meant more than one thing. It’s both chopping wood, carrying water, and writing about it.’

Dr Siriol McAvoy, Gillian Clarke: My Box (A help-sheet for teachers) CREW: Centre for Research into the English Literature and Language of Wales, Swansea University, August 2018

Threshold by R S Thomas

I emerge from the mind’s

cave into the worse darkness

outside, where things pass and

the Lord is in none of them.

.

I have heard the still, small voice

and it was that of the bacteria

demolishing my cosmos. I

have lingered too long on

.

this threshold, but where can I go?

To look back is to lose the soul

I was leading upward towards

the light. To look forward? Ah,

.

what balance is needed at

the edges of such an abyss.

I am alone on the surface

of a turning planet. What

.

to do but, like Michelangelo’s

Adam, put my hand

out into unknown space,

hoping for the reciprocating touch?

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Later Poems (1983)

From A Suburban Window by Dannie Abse

Such afternoon glooms, such clouds chimney low –
London, the clouds want to move but can not,
London, the clouds want to rain but can not –
such negatives of a featureless day:
the street empty but for a van passing,
an afternoon smudged by old afternoons.
Soon, despite railings, evening will come
from a great distance trailing evenings.
Meantime, unemployed sadness loiters here.

Quite suddenly, six mourners appear:
a couple together, then three stout men,
then one more, lagging behind, bare-headed.
Not one of them touches the railings.
They walk on and on remembering days,
yet seem content. They employ the décor.
They use this grey inch of eternity,
and the afternoon, so praised, grows distinct.

by Dannie Abse
from A Small Desperation (1968)

Carol by R. S. Thomas

What is Christmas without
snow? We need it
as bread of a cold
climate, ermine to trim

our sins with, a brief
sleeve for charity’s
scarecrow to wear its heart
on, bold as a robin.

by R. S. Thomas
from Later Poems
(1983)

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.

Pavane by R. S. Thomas

Convergences,
Of the spirit! What
Century, love? I,
Too; you remember -
Brescia? This sunlight reminds
Of the brocade. I dined
Long. And now the music
Of darkness in your eyes
Sounds. But Brescia,
And the spreading foliage
Of smoke! With Yeats' birds
Grown hoarse.
Artificer
Of the years, is this
Your answer? The long dream
Unwound; we followed
Through time to the tryst
With ourselves. But wheels roll
Between and the shadow
Of the plane falls. The
Victim remains
Nameless on the tall
Steps. Master, I
Do not wish, I do not wish
To continue.


by R. S. Thomas
from H'm (1972)

Extra information:

The pavane, pavan, paven, pavin, pavian, pavine, or pavyn (It. pavana, padovana; Ger. Paduana) is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century (Renaissance).

Also the poem might refer to the pavane, a sedate and dignified couple dance, similar to the 15th-century basse danse. The music which accompanied it appears originally to have been fast or moderately fast but, like many other dances, became slower over time.

Brescia is a city and comune in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. It is situated at the foot of the Alps, a few kilometres from the lakes Garda and Iseo. With a population of more than 200,000, it is the second largest city in the region and the fourth of northwest Italy. The urban area of Brescia extends beyond the administrative city limits and has a population of 672,822, while over 1.5 million people live in its metropolitan area. The city is the administrative capital of the Province of Brescia, one of the largest in Italy, with over 1,200,000 inhabitants.