Archive for August, 2011


We came here first maybe fifty years ago –

Porth Trecastell aka Cable Bay

(on Ynys Môn aka Anglesey) –

a small Iron Age hill fort on one headland,

a Neolithic grave on the other,

and a telephone cable to Ireland

in between. This bank holiday the bay

is busy – paddlers, bathers, canoeists.


In the gated burial chamber –

Barclodiad y Gawres, which translates,

‘the full apron of the giantess’ –

its prehistoric graffiti secured

against vandals, a pair of swallows

has nested. We can hear the nestlings.

Seeing us, the parents, beaks replete

with insects, perch on the outer gate,

waiting patiently for the lubberly,

flightless giants – one with a movable eye

that shafts like lightning – to depart.

When we do, they fly past, a steel-blue flash,

an iridescence, into the dark tomb.


From the dolmen’s entrance, on the horizon

is Holyhead Mountain. If the earth were flat,

we could see to Ireland – where the weathers

and the myths are made. In sunlight as sharp as

wings, the sea is so many shades of blue:

cerulean, aquamarine, cobalt,

amethyst, turquoise – and sapphire,

a token of all our married years.



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The Cape Point funicular stops. A baboon

is squatting on the track, suckling its young.

Cameras click. We wait. Mother and child lope off

into the fynbos and the proteas.

We trundle down to the visitors’ centre.


On a path by the electrified fence

beneath the restaurant terrace, a baboon stalks.

Much further below and beyond is False Bay.

A distant whale breaches, and another –

then a destroyer passes, sailing

from Simons Town for the Southern Ocean.


Towards closing time the whole troop gathers

on a knoll above the perimeter fence,

the dominant male at the centre.

They wait. Meanwhile, he copulates twice.


There must be gaps in the fence. A young male,

bleeding, clutching packets of sugar,

is chased from the coffee shop, his pursuer

with a padded stick. Suddenly, the big male

is among us with the speed of a sprinter.

He knocks a young woman down, grabs her coke

and crisps, disappears. We are powerless.

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It was time to revise our atlases.

Europe was a river of broken ice,

Russia a mouth widening to a

frozen sea. GULAG was permanent winter.

Innocent, we had traced railways to

romantic ends. The atlas of knowledge showed

obscured crimes, its charts the colours and scale

of blizzards. A new world had been shaping.

Multitudes were shunted across nations.

A chronicle of whispers is the pure

saga, epic of the supreme fiction,

where history is lost, where ten million

lives are broken like glass.

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Nuns clambered on the headland. Like scarabs,

they traversed the sage slope of limestone

to the hermit’s shrine. Marine creatures, landlocked,

awaited the sea’s coming. The poet

descended by funicular to the bay’s

elegant crescent of hotels. Mists

trailed the foothills of distant peaks. In saloons

of bevelled mirrors, his comrades sang

marching songs. A love poem formed like breath.


He crunched on innumerable pebbles.

Waves gasped and sighed, smoothing the wooden groynes.

Two aircraft, high, high above, dived, banked, climbed –

a predatory bond of whining vapour loops

interlocked like wire – until a spurt of flame.

In smoke, one spiralled like some gross leaf

under the horizon. By the sea wall,

a cormorant lay dead: nearby, a page

torn from Treasure Island. Unexpectedly,

he returned to childhood – holidays

in small rooms with giant wardrobes and tall beds;

a flying boat landing from beyond the blue,

feathering the briny; expensive strangers

embarking for Samarkand; at the Grand,

legerdemain. The sea flowed oyster.


Teatime arrived with its obligations,

allotments, chapels and a woman

methodically descending a ladder.

Drizzle suffused the geometrical skies

of barrack windows. The grey tide rasped.

The night was full of girls he would never see.

Nuns dreamt of scaling paradise. Fossils

and saint were locked in their diurnal chambers.

The poet approached sleep, dreaming of

water – purposeless, unmade, fulfilling –

and lavender seeds – in the small, azure

pomander, locked away, safe from winter –

changing slowly into air.




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Ancient Greeks preferred it to chronicles

for poetry is the art of maybe,

the alchemy which turns fact into song.


‘Antiochus honours the saviours of men,

the immortals, Asclepius of

the gentle hands, Hygeia, Panakeia.’

On the margins of barbarity

and wilderness,  a Greek army doctor

commissioned a recondite altar – found

some seventeen hundred years later

when Chester’s Market Hall, its pediment

topped with cornucopia, was flattened.


Centuries before the Twentieth

was stationed here, the most famous sculptor

working at Olympia, inscribed

his wine jug, ‘I belong to Pheidias’.

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