THE BOOK OF YSTWYTH
For Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
to honor his 60th birthday-to-be and retrospective exhibition,
The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, 2011
--Cooperstown, New York, September 2008--
The Blue Marches
Master Jug and Lady Candle Stick
THE BLUE MARCHES
“. . . this early painterly approach to objects
can be seen in Journey’s End, the little still-life/landscape
painting of my dad’s tea mug standing in front
of Tretower Castle.” –Clive Hicks-Jenkins
There’s nothing here bejeweled with twig and flower,
No wolfish fur that burns as if a kiln
Had been flung wide to let in sprays of salt,
And most of all, no story, wings, or saint.
Instead there is the seepage of a blue
Not twilight: low, continual dim glow
Dispersed from borderlands beyond this world.
So here is landscape as the stillest life,
So here is still life hunkered in the grass,
Estranged from lamplit houses, grown outscale.
There’s nothing here but cup and keep and tree,
And tree resembles keep, and keep is tree
Truncated—cup is stump of leaning tree.
No teller yet, unless the tale be one
Older than the famed white book of Rhydderch,
Older than the red of Hergest, older
By far than these… Fetch me a magic fruit
So I can taste its glistening cells and gulp
The stubborn words that linger out of reach.
In blueing light, a father’s mug might be
The grail, might be Welsh cauldron, wombed with life,
Might over-brim with death-drink, colorless.
There’s nothing but a shadow in the cup!
Its clipper ship in sail is doldrum-glazed,
Forgets the fragrance of darjeeling seas.
The motte, a mound of good Welsh earth, was his,
As was the tower vacant to the sky,
The kingdom known as Powys long ago,
And all the rainy borderland of blue—
All things that flee and hide in borderlands
Between the earth and sky belonged to him.
But now he has passed through that realm of dreams
And left you wondering by hills of earth,
And long you’ll muse, and long you’ll meditate
And never understand the world you brushed
Across that sheet of paper: world where tree
Is keep, and keep is tree, and cup can loom
--Journey’s End, 1999
Sunday when the bells
Were ringing, I dreamed a fine,
High singing in air—
An oval of leaves
Aspired, became cloud. I cried
To the Lord, “Spare me
From maiden-doom, flesh
Conflagrate in marriage-bed,”
And touched the little
Apples of my breasts
And braids that said I was not
Mine, nor Christ’s alone.
They never warned me
That God’s reply is direful,
I slipped into sleep
Within sleep, dreamed the swollen
Womb of an oak tree,
My veins suckling sap . . .
A portal slit allowed light,
Dilated, clasped head
And shoulder: I eased
Like a tender flower-bud
From the lips of tree,
Below a Venus
Mound of leaves—a boy so new
In his second birth,
He scarcely marked day’s
Magic cauldron, its wildfire
Breaking in the skies,
The blast of power
Or the exoskeleton
That armed the angel
Whose eyes glanced away,
A delicate intrusion:
The hands offered life
Guised as bara brith
That in another instant
The boy took and ate.
MASTER JUG AND LADY CANDLE STICK
With hands on hips and foliate attire,
The candlestick is all umbrageousness,
A shady lady who has stripped the trees
At upper right to flock her dress with leaves,
A woman apt to give or take offence,
Set resolute beside the one-armed jug.
The wide blue boat of hat upholds a stub
With candlewick to warn his waters off—
She’ll have no wild outpourings of his love,
No boarding of the levees of her skirts.
She doesn’t know that he, entrenched in peace,
Is musing only of the color blue
And how he can by rounding clasp the sea
Until his wheel-turned soul grows chasmal-deep.
Impaled upon a thorn, the little fish
At lower right perceives what she cannot
And dreams cloud-cuckoo lands below the waves—
Will get there just as soon as Master Jug
Can gather all the seas inside himself,
Enspelling blue chimeric revery.
--The Blue Jug, 2006
You said “phantasmagoria” and asked
Just how such things happen, how life changed,
And how I, burning, could embrace the flame
Like Daniel striding, singing in the threads
Of windblown fire that seemed but harvest wheat,
The summer color of a lion’s pelt…
My making was a strangeness to the world,
Announced by angel messenger: Hervé
Would be devoted to the Lord. The two
Predestined as my parents met and matched
And parted in a dream of holiness.
My mother prayed my eyes be undeceived.
My father prayed me visions sent from God.
They made a child the messenger foretold.
I was a little boy immured in night,
A land where Rivanone ran quicksilver
Through shade of trees, my mother Rivanone,
Where father meant a voice to say or chant
That shook the boughs and lingered by the throne
Of distant kings: Hyvarnian the bard,
Who bade me be like him. What did I know,
A blind small boy for whom no one looked king,
And all was trees with leaves of onyx skin
That rustled with the telling of my tales,
And all was stream that whispered Rivanone?
Then came my frolic, curl-tailed dog that danced
Around my feet and chased the leaves with joy
And skimmed his name in barks across the stream.
I spired aloft, a sapling in the woods,
And every day I learned new tales and songs
And combed the waves of singing Rivanone.
Some say that forests are best cleansed by fire,
That plants upfling their forms as if renewed
When wildfire passes by—one day a burst
Of sun fell down from heaven to my face.
I swam inside its waterfalls of light,
Sluiced and rinsed by bonfire’s streaming petals,
Until I sensed with second sight the face
That hides itself within a glowing tree.
So then I saw, though dimly, stems of word
And waves of syllables, as if the monks
Had made the world a dark calligraphy
To tell me how all things were made of word
That issued burning from the mouth of God.
The wolf was tangled up with what I knew—
Scathe-mouthed, he rushed to scoop my little dog
And made a tidbit of his dainty shape
Before he slammed between my empty arms.
I somehow knew the wildfire of his fur
Was kindled from the tinder of the words,
And all the world was innocent of guile.
The more he set a bracelet of his teeth
Around my arm, the more I sang out love
To rock the earth and unearth rock, to read
The leaf, the stream, the blind fantastic world
Until the forest flashed almighty light.
And now if I should grieve the dark no more,
If I should whoop and carol to the boles,
The wolf my partner in a fearsome dance,
My life phantasmagoria of joy,
Then do not pity me, for I have read
The writing on the walls of blind-eyed earth,
And do not blame the wolf for anything,
For God Almighty, bard above all bards,
Has crowned his head with glory like a saint’s
And set the words of wildfire in his fur.
Woman as Delft
Ynysypandy Slate Mill –- Toy Theatre with Delft Plate and Pomegranates, 2004
Up center, down center, and apron, she
Is dominating stage and drops of scenery:
Her flower-painted presence calls the eye
To fly old walls of fieldstone, magically restored,
Fish-skeletons of branches tipped with green,
And pilgrim’s scallop shell that crowns proscenium.
Why is her stageset kingdom painted blue
Like sky or sea? Is she to sail somewhere through cloud
Or ocean? Must she be eternally
Moored at harbor, freighted with ripe pomegranates?
Delft as Memento Mori
Delft Plate and Sea Thrift, St. Govan’s Head, 2005
Earthly all is dangerous to china—
Blunted seal-brown shapes of cliffs, then plunging absence.
The sea goes dark with something like a thought.
St. Govan’s little oratory is unseen,
As secret in the earth as was the bell
That pirates stole and angels thrust inside a stone.
The Delft’s as lovely-fragile as before,
But someone’s tasted pomegranates snug with seed:
The plate is vacant. Sprigs of sea thrift kiss