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.
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
In the Shadows of the Ogres
There is a village in the Shadows of the Ogres – Orius, Oron, Thoronius – whose march through the mountains clubs in hand wading through stone was put to an end to by some unknown magician countless years ago. Now the time is told by their shadows as they loom across the village as the sun moves from east to south to west then sinks back down again and at night they are shadowier still. There is a village fifty miles away in the shadows an ogress. I tend a small garden, growing rosemary and thyme where one by one the clubs fall but no damage is done to the tender leaves.
A Sword in a Stone
I travel as a breath over a land of dark rock until I see something silver glint, sweep down, and see, to my consternation, it is a sword. It’s a tall sword, nearly as tall as me. It’s impossible to know whether someone plunged it into the stone or the living stone claimed it. The pommel is embroidered with a a pair of intertwined serpents and on the blade are runes in the language of an unknown culture. Tied around the hilt there is a lock of hair – the hair of a dead man.
It’s like an adolescent boy’s dream and it makes me uneasy although I’ve never prayed for peace on a full moon. I know what you do with swords stuck in stones and what happens afterwards. I don’t want to be King or Queen and I don’t want to reduce it to a symbol of my own sovereignty. Whereas others would either try what is begging to be done or simply walk away I circle around it like a mill horse, try to philosophise it away, wonder if I can get away with just writing a poem about it.
“If you don’t pull it from the stone another will – you can’t just leave it lying about for another Arthur.”
I don’t know whose voice that is, most likely Temptation’s, that of a secret part of me that wants a sword.
“Ok, whoever you are,” I know if I don’t do it now I’ll be back and utterly furious with myself if it’s gone. Like all the other chances I got that I failed to take, like all those missed opportunities.
A part of me is laughing at myself for assuming that I might be able to pull it out at all. What a relief that would be – another proof that I’m doomed to fail, might as well stop trying, return to the supermarket. Another part has already guessed it will slide out as easily as if from dark magma.
It’s astonishing light, easy to wield, as if I’d wielded it in another life. When I sit down cross legged with it across my knees and run my hands over the runes I realise each marks a life taken and I weep.
The Soul Watcher
A land of stone. A giant’s sword abandoned. A stony citadel lit by cobwebs of pulsing green light. Inside I find a work station with a gigantic swivel chair in the middle. There are billions and billions of monitors, only a quarter of them working, tracking graphs in countless glowing colours. Frequently one flickers out and occasionally another one flickers on. A machine that reminds me of a fruit machine has either broken or been smashed. The screen is shattered and it gapes black behind. At the work station there are databases with flashing figures and I see the names of various species: Acetobacter aurantius, Acinetobacter baumannii, Actinomyces israelii… Lycaena boldenarum, Lycaena epixanthe, Lycaena rauparaha… Vulpes velox, Vulpes vulpes, Vulpes chama, Homo sapiens… for one the figures are rising and most of the rest are rapidly going down. On a stone plinth is a book with a last scrawled note: ‘steep decline… can’t reboot the machine… the well.’ As I depart I notice the green light is fading and know soon the citadel, the sword, we will be gone.
Yesterday I had a most uncanny experience. Approaching the river Ribble from Castle Hill, I found myself facing a long stretch of tide marked wall that gave the appearance it had dropped away into nowhere. I was struck by a sudden sense of vertigo. The Ribble couldn’t have disappeared, as if had fallen into a void, surely?
On closer inspection, seeing the reflections of the grilles and staircases, and catching subtle fluctuations in the surface of the water, I realised this was an illusion created by a combination of its stillness with the markings on the stone.
To my relief at either end of the concrete barriers, the ‘true’ water level was clear.
Drawn to stay a while in meditation on the strange appearance and disappearance of the river, which occurred as I shifted my eye-line, I was gifted with the sight of several birds. Common and black headed gulls and terns circled, their darker shadows mirrored in the water. Another bird, which I think may have been a grebe or even a black throated diver flew in. Diving with quick flips of its tail it emerged, for the most part, triumphant with white-silver fish, which after a brief kerfuffle vanished down its throat. Finally, a heron arrived to land majestically on a piece of flotsam.
For me this goes to show that even where it is channelled, the Ribble is a magical and mind altering place. I give thanks to the river, all its visitors and inhabitants, and its goddess Belisama.