between two train lines
Here I made my bed,
in a corner of a patch between two train lines,
one heading north and the other east through the city
where the morning mist is slow to clear
above the thundering wagons, and the street peters out
as if the city were left half-finished
This is the house we made for ourselves out of longing
and IKEA plastic wood, and tonight
we have to sleep in it
Another train, cats whose wails are like a baby crying,
a helicopter moon shines its searchlight on these walls
here between two train lines and two rivers,
and I lie awake through the night, unsure
if the whole daft caboodle is a dream or nightmare
and by day I sleep in the endless committee meetings.
Shall we go prowling into the night? How much would it take
to get out of this bed right now and walk away?
or in the midst of some committee, just get up and leave the table...
I knew that you were busy inside some dream
but all the same I ventured to pour it all out,
all that’s been lost, while the dog-next-door barked
But this is where we made our bed
and what does it matter now with your consoling breath
heavy, like carriage after carriage following me
your eyelids three-quarters closed
your hair in your eyes and your eyes darting,
here where we made our bed we lie, like two train lines.
letter from Iceland
to our son in his mother’s womb
It’s easier to understand the carvings of time,
looking at the glacier dragging itself down the valley;
mountains forming, the day refusing to die
and the earth alive and bubbling with yellow brimstone.
I gaze out at the islands of the west
distant giants in the pink mist,
lumbering by on the far tide:
and the roar of the waterfall
lulls your mother asleep, chilled to the bone
and you newly quickening inside
We came here to take stock of the fact of your existence:
we open the windows of the campervan for the sea wind
to make the concept fly, to test it against
the whip of the salt air and the curtains and the soul
until we get cold, and have to close the door again.
You are with us already, though we can’t feel you
as we play cards, listen to Graceland
and wash the skyr down with supermarket beer,
we’re a family all of a sudden, and another election
is edging its way forward slowly on my phone
It’ll be the middle of winter when you arrive,
the light lost by three o’clock.
You’ll be born to a day
that will almost not exist.
Some day we’ll retreat, your mother and I,
like a glacier, and what sort of world
will we pass on to you? Black
sand, and big toes rubbing
between sock and shoe. Seagulls
from the north diving as they hunt.
You’ll come, and you’ll change everything,
but I’ll love her still as I did in Berlin,
or as she is now, lying here by my side.
And I’d like you to see her as I did today,
crossing the glacier with her ice-axe and laughing out loud,
the toes of her boots clinking along the iridescent glass
as if she had diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
the world is suspicious of poets
I saw a well-known poet today:
the winner of prizes I hadn’t heard of,
stuck in traffic
as he drove his child to school in a Fiat...
but then, what sort of car is a poet supposed to drive?
Writing poetry is maintenance work.
Poets are mechanics for their few customers,
trying to resurrect the charabang of culture;
some call occasionally to ask for an englyn like a sparkplug
or a cywydd for a wedding, like a full service.
There’s no VAT – and no end – to our poems.
And when I break down at half past five
on a Friday afternoon, as the whole city’s heading for home,
and the contents of my petrol tank bleed onto the tarmac,
here’s an acquaintance walking past
as I wait on the pavement for the RAC:
‘oh well, at least there’s a poem in it for you!’
I saw them all, the crow and the bear and the deer,
swallow and mole and sewin and oxen and free golden eagle
and I found them all a wee bit samey,
like going to a poetry evening in midwinter,
and listening to ten poems about the language in different metres.
And yet, tomorrow, I know
I’ll still be stringing words together,
while pissed and wearing a hat,
englynion for newlyweds
knowing they won’t understand a word,
still craving for the ten out of ten and the sparse audience
while my mates are all in the green room bar
and I’ll be making demands on the white page
to conquer it with ink, like a patch of land
hoping there’ll be someone left to hear
when, at long last, I say something true,
and cold, and clear, like the frost that
still lingers a while before our house.
translated by katie gramich
At the confluence of two railway lines, two lives come together in this second poetry collection by acclaimed author Llŷr Gwyn Lewis. Emerging from the lockdown period, these quietly powerful poems reflect on the human condition as the author explores the evolving, deepening relationship between a young man and his partner, as they await and then experience the dramatic changes that follow the birth of their son. In a series of often-interwoven extended metaphors, the poet reflects on the family microcosm and on his own, and his son’s, familial and cultural inheritance, his quarrymen forefathers’ skill in fashioning slate with simple manual tools now replaced by the keyboard-bound world of wordsmithing. As new fatherhood coincides with mourning a death in the family, the poet confronts a future where his son, following his own particular path, will face a challenging new world without his parents.
Perfectly married with Dafydd Owain’s striking monochrome designs, these thoughtful poems full of love, wisdom and, above all, honesty are breathtaking at first reading but yield ever richer depths on revisiting them, as the poet confirms his status as one of Wales’s most outstanding younger writers.