‘A hen got hold of me –
a red-clawed one, a crested enemy;
I spent nine nights
residing in her womb’
The Hostile Confederacy
“The witch Ceridwen made me like this.”
He reminds me of one of Baskin’s cave birds:
the bare white skull with its long maxilla,
the sclerotic ring,
the way he stares just ‘so’ like a raptor,
cervical vertebrae twisting down
to feathered shoulders.
Immediately I have questions
I know I shouldn’t ask –
like where he got his cloak,
whether it’s part of him,
I keep my beak well shut,
follow with respect up the mountain
to the tap-tap-tap of his stick
as he points out bones picked clean by birds,
the skeleton still sitting waiting for death.
When I grow weary I think of how the dying
made it higher with their last breath
and stumble on to the summit.
Will I fall apart in a heap of bones
or crumble into a pile of dust?
Only his sunken eyes know.
I totter like an old woman.
Before I’ve had the chance to look down
at what I’ve left behind I’m swept
into a gyre,
circling and circling
with the last things of Thisworld –
a wardrobe emptying of clothes,
a cupboard spilling chutnies,
jams, ketchups, vinegar.
Things I’ll dimly miss.
A new set of wings
is beating in my chest
carrying me higher higher.
The sun is my new head
illuminating the plains
of a new horizon.
Its brightness is beyond pain,
understanding, words such as ‘firmament’,
the winged souls are busy,
half human, half bird,
hollowing out their bones
with the chink, chink, chink
of tiny chisels, breaking
and re-fixing humerus,
ulna, radius, fusing carples
and phalanges into wings.
Separating toes into claws.
Stretching lungs into air sacs
and filling lightened bodies full
of soulful air and otherlight.
they are greeted by elders
who teach them to build nests
with sticks and clothes pegs,
moss, spit, newspaper cuttings
of past lives they wished they had,
toys, shoes, watch hands, fluff
from the bellies of teddy bears.
Like little old women or foetuses
they climb back into the eggs,
back into a chick-like slumber,
back into the womb of an old hen,
back into the cauldron of Ceridwen,
back into before they were born.
Finally Twrand tells his story:
“For nine nights and nine days
I resided in her womb asleep like
a feather in the skies drifting from
planet to planet learning stories
of other worlds beyond her dreams
and all her deepest imaginings.
I saw the trajectory of Thisworld.
I plucked the feather of my Awen
from the side of a red-clawed hen.
When I was born she killed me:
wrung my neck, bent me out of shape.
I raised my skeleton from the sand,
fixed my wings and learnt to ride
the winds of the gyre unreturning.”