Birthday Dragonfly

I.
You land
on her sky-blue
shoulder

four red dots
on the webbing
of your wings

red-tailed

eyes brown
and flickering
swivelling

like a rock star
with a guitar

washing soap
from your face
as if preparing
to make

a confession.

II.
It’s the 19th
of November

and over a year
since the accident
when my bike
met wings.

Since I
listened to
your message
and obeyed
the summons
of wetland
things.

III.
It is not you
who needs to confess
to make it up to the land
somehow but I

preserving
your pond from
willow and typha
and phragmites.

In this work
I forget my anxiety.

IV.
I can push
a wheelbarrow,
wield a mattock,
loppers, saw,

not like
technologies.

Weep for the willow
but know it will
survive

far longer
than electricity.

V.
In the midst
of the lockdown
the sun shines on
my birthday.

And you
are red on blue
washing the suds
from my eyes
clearing

the ponds

teaching me joy.

*I record my accidental killing of a common darter and the impact it had on my life HERE.
**These photographs were taken at Fishwick Bottoms Nature Reserve, Preston, where I currently volunteer on a Thursday.

Rigantona’s Departure

I.
The fall of tempered leaves
stamps itself out mid-November
like leaf-shaped arrow heads

the yellow birch my old daggers

distant memories of the ancestors
contort the gloaming wearing

cloaks as grey as your shroud

and the grey spider who hangs
above watching you departing from
the darkness without a thread.

II.
I cannot imagine you Great Queen
as the young girl who was taken
against her will when the last leaf

fell by the hunter with the horns

and the ember-eyes headlight bright

before there were cars and cars and cars…
before with the leaves the forest fell…
before Annwn was known as Hell.

III.
You always knew where you were going
didn’t you? Needed no thread to lead
you back to your own home in his arms?

They knew that too – our ancestors

who offered up coins minted like leaves
in fairyland where money grows on trees
and crumbles likes us to grey dust.

IV.
I have no coin the leaves in my pockets
are old and withered as grey spiders.

When my fingers are dust I shall
follow without a thread shrugging into
your shroud joining the contours

of the grey-cloaked ever-marching dead.

Earthstars

Earthstars fall.

Remind me a little
of polystyrene or an egg box.

Disenchanted I Star Wars child
looking down on a space station,
a puff of magician’s smoke.

I am lost amongst the spores.

Neither mouse nor mycologist
I am back on the stage again.

I am back in my cage feeling
the muscles under my skin.

I am pulling splinters from my palm.

I am becoming a religious mystic,
reminded of the privilege of being here
in this damp woodland in spite of being
fallen, fallen, fallen, like these stars

from the Star of the King of Annwn.

*This poem is based on my first sighting of collared earthstars (Geastrum triplex) at Fishwick Bottoms Nature Reserve in Preston.

My Lady of the Autumn Flowers

let me ride with you
into the sunset of calendula.
Let me weep Michaelmas daisies
in the purple of dusk.

Let me ride the mountains
to gather wolfsbane in a distant land
where it was spat from the jaws
of a monstrous hound.

Let me sit and count violas
so delicate as you count the days
down until you leave for the place
from which flowers come.

The Summer King is dead.
Your coffin is waiting in Annwn.
It shall be adorned with flowers.
The Winter King awaits.

We both hear on the crystal wind
the baying of his hounds –
call of the otherplace
growing stronger and stronger.

Let me ride with you
these last moons see your face
in the faces of flowers marking the days
until you return to Annwn.

The Edge

I’m back on Idris again at the edge
of Llyn Cau alone with the madness
of giants surrounded by the battle-fog
of Gwenddolau although Arfderydd
is distant, Myrddin, the gwyllon,
the seven-score men who lapsed
into wyllt-ness when battle-rage fled.

The ravens have left and I am alone
pondering the edge of a blade lost
in my brain-fog, my little Arfderydd,
the small traumas etched on my flesh.
Battle-scars, battle-madness, the battle-
field I thought I’d escaped long ago
when you appeared to Myrddin

as the brightness beyond endurance,
tore him out of himself and took him
to the forest of Celyddon to be healed.
When you walked out of the heroic age
and took me not like a maiden but like
one of your own taught me to fight
with Cyledyr, Cynedyr, Cynfelyn,

wilder than beasts of the mountains,
to howl with your hounds and exult in
the madness of giants bigger than dream.
Bull of Battle, Invincible Lord, teach me
again the art of turning pain into poetry,
to make this battle-fog my strength not
my enemy and this edge my blade.

The Baby’s Gone

“The baby’s gone.”

I see her, the one I love,
surrounded by wilted flowers.
Her sheets, her dress, are torn, bloody.
It’s as if something with a monstrous claw…
Do not awake oh innocent one
taste the blood on your lips.

“The baby’s gone.”

She’s sitting bolt upright
clutching nothing to her breast
staring at her bloody hands sharp nails
and has she bitten her tongue?

“Murderer.” “Cannibal.”

And above the accusations
the howling of a stag-hound bitch
for her six slaughtered pups.

“The baby’s gone.”

The circles beneath her eyes
are dark as the moon that has ceased
to ride across the night skies as she crawls
on her hands and knees through the long dark tunnels.

Upon her back she carries the world as a theatre
acting out a mystery play that begins
as a nativity and grows dark.

“The baby’s gone.”

And is that his laughter
she hears on the other side
of the wall or is it some changeling
she follows fingers tracing hieroglyphs?

Has this happened before and did she draw
these very pictures to remind herself?
Seek not the truth at the heart
of the labyrinth dear one.

“The baby’s gone.”

In the play I am evil –
on my head there are bull’s horns.
They dare not admit I am her father or lover
or brother reaching out from behind the curtains
to take the son who is mine from
where she lay with another.

“The baby’s gone.”

Where did I put him this time?

She’s tracing the outline of an otter
and she is splashing through the water
on the bank of a river with him trying
to catch a silver salmon slipping

through his claws turning to stone –

a cold dead speckled fish and next
the dragonfly that landed on the end
of her nose and how we laughed…

She did not see the wolf in me.

“The baby’s gone.”

Yet I saw her wild horse.

She’s close to touching the truth.
She’s reading the symbols like braille.
On her back the bone mare is riding to the stable
where the claw lies severed fingers clutching
neither boy nor foal but emptiness.

(We cannot hold what we love.)

He is the object of her riddles.

“The baby’s gone.”

I am behind her curtains.

On the stage there is a man
beneath her skirts and the time
of revelation is drawing nigh.

“The baby’s gone.”

When she reaches the heart
of the labyrinth the truth is too terrible
to behold the centre unfolds.

She gallops back into not-knowing.

She is waiting outside the stable
for the old man leading a colt
with a boy upon his back.

Whose is this kindness?

“The baby’s gone.”

The Monstrous Claw

after the noise an enormous claw comes through the window, and grabs the foal by the mane. Teyrnon draws his sword and cuts off the arm at the elbow… by the door there is a small boy.’
The Second Branch

I’m just reaching out
for your foal, for your first-born son.
I like to see blood on my claws.
I like the taste although
I do not eat them.

I just want you to know
there is a hole in your reality
bigger than the sun.

That nothing is safe.

Nothing.

You are not the only one who feels terror.

I know you long for my blood –
to lick it from your blade
when you have nailed
my arm above your window.

The exchange must be complete.

You try to close the window again.

How long can I go on reaching out
when it only ends in pain?

How long can you go in dread?

Llech Ronw

is in my chest.

A stone with a hole
where my heart once was.

I fought your battle for you
on the riverbank –

on the bank of the Cynfal
near Bryn Cygergyr

where I have never
walked and Welsh words

roll like stones in my mouth
washed downriver

from Ceunant Coch.
I feel like Blaenau Ffestiniog.

No, the mountains above
slate hearts torn out.

Where have we hidden it
this time in this never ending

shadowplay of shifting guises
not knowing whose hand

reaches through the hole
in the slate into another world

and drags something back
to make us whole?

This poem is based on the battle between Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebyr in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogi. In it I believe the King of Annwn takes the guise of Gronw to defeat Lleu. In an additional identity exchange, in this poem, I found myself in the role of Annwn’s king becoming Gronw.

The battle took place on the bank of Afon Cynfal near Bryn Cygergyr ‘the Hill of the Blow’. Llech Ronw ‘the Slate of Gronw’ is a stone found in 1934 on the bank of the Cynfal. It was washed down from Ceunant Coch and now stands on Afon Bryn Saeth. I haven’t visited Llech Ronw. The pictured stone is the replica at Llyn Trawsfynydd and the accompanying photograph is of the mountains above Blaenau Ffestiniog.

On Eating Hearts

Gwyn son of Nudd… forced Cyldedyr to eat his father’s heart… Cyledyr went mad.’
How Culhwch Won Olwen

We have eaten the hearts of our ancestors.

We have bitten them down in pieces.
We have choked on them, retched on them,
tried to refuse to eat them at our peril.

We have swallowed them whole.

We have made them palatable with condiments –
ketchups squeezed from blood and mustards from bile.

We have been unable to stop eating even when told to stop.

We have seen our faces with blood dripping from our mouths
on the front of the newspapers and pointed our fingers
at everyone else – those heartless heart-eaters.

We have blamed the gods who told us to do it.

We have gone mad with grief and guilt.

We have wandered the Forest of Celyddon
with Cyledyr, with Culhwch, with Myrddin Wyllt,
tried to become poets and we have failed.

We have not heard your whisper in the woods~
in the little cavern within our right atrium,
thought of the hunger of the future.

I have no children so to who
will you feed my heart?

The Towers of the Wyrms

Nine towers of stone.
Around each coils a wyrm.
No way in – no door, lock, key,
but a single row of windows at the top
where I think I glimpse the face of a madman.
They are old as the grey mountains.
I want to claim they were built
by the haulers of scree,
the wyrms summoned and bound
by the might of magicians or that they came
of their own free will raising the towers
from some secret land underground
that has never been seen. Share rumours
of a sibylline prophetess who consulted the wyrm’s heads
but whose words are not recorded in dusty books
in an arcane language eaten by bookworms.
But no explanation rings true or exists.
I feel like banging my head against
the stone demanding an answer
from the inexplicable unblinking eyes
and long stony tongues silent as the purple skies.
I cannot accept this vision defeating poetry.

I wrote the poem above a couple of years ago and the vision it is based on has stuck with me. It’s only since I started writing my new mythic book, The Dragon’s Tongue, that I realised that the nine towers correspond to the nine heads of the Dragon Mother Anrhuna and that when she was killed her nine heads were bound on the towers so the creator gods had power over the nine elements (stone, earth, magma, fire, air, wind, water, mist, and ice). I’ve finally got round to trying to draw the scene, which I find helps.