The Wrexham Coverlet
The Wrexham tailor took needle and thread
To make a world from military scraps,
Yellow of epaulets and soldier blue,
Militia red and shades of fawn and earth.
Here’s Cain with Abel flung to bleeding ground,
And ground made golem speaks against a name
And names the newborn crime as fratricide,
With brothers and the blood of ancient tales
All stitched in remnants from new uniforms.
Isn’t it a story still of brothers?
See here’s a black man with his bow upraised,
For England has gone round the world and found
That all the world is brothers, more or less,
And good to help, so long as one is Abel. . . .
There’s Jonah’s piscine disappearing trick,
Legs vanishing inside the Lord God’s whale,
As neatly clasped as ships in tiny bottles:
Unlucky, grumpy Jonah, gulped and left
To ponder man’s first disobedience
Again (we never get it right, it seems,
Even when mortal limbs are stitched in place).
And speaking of the Fall, there’s Adam now,
Busy naming the animals, the birds
And gentle panther, elephant, giraffe,
With no helpmeet but man’s first friend, the dog.
(His wife still cramped inside him like a bone,
Silent, packed with marrow, dreaming of life
Beyond her nest formed of blood and muscle.)
There’s Noah’s ark, no longer needed now,
For any land that’s wild and watery
Can turn to Telford for salvation’s rock
—His smart suspension bridge at Menai
Or look to Conybeare and Sutherland,
Their viaduct at Cefn sending high
A locomotive with smoke like rickrack.
But where, oh where are women in this world
So neatly scissored and so finely stitched
By tailor Williams, late of College Street?
Oh, willow, willow, is it you—the blue
Pagoda from a willow pattern plate
That’s tucked inside this buzzing scene of men
In frames of rhomboid, diamond, checkerboard,
And chevron? See the charming garden gate,
The flower and the palm tree and three birds?
See the pagoda like an upside down,
Ornate bell for calling household servants?
Inside those doors (and there are three, like birds,
Like the unity of God Almighty,
Anno Domini 1842)
Are hidden all the women of this world,
Invisible as spirits in a cloud,
Not clad in wool but fine in chintz and silk,
Each one raising a tiny bell that’s shaped
Like a pagoda (stitched from silver threads.)
Their feet are bound. They do not rise but twirl
Their silver bells until a ravishing
And sweet sound swings the coverlet in air;
Each rings her bell like ringing Kingdom Come,
Like ringing in a better, dreamed-of world
As the coverlet descends and shelters
The sleeping tailor Williams and his wife,
At home on College Street in Wrexham, Wales.
Nancy at the River
In memory of Nancy Potts Coward
Her skirts are barely lifted, soaked with dew
As she goes wading through autumnal grass.
So many years I have been watching her,
So many years admiring as she climbed
Blue and misty mountains, bootlaces tied
In triple knots to keep her steps secure.
And now she is drifting beyond my sight,
Her steps like soundless snow, even her form
Like a wind-whirled skein of snow unwinding.
The next moment, she’ll flit beyond finding
And slip into the stream—there fishes swarm
And school around a shape, and human light
Is dowsed, and all is mystery, so pure
And secret like a mythic flower bride
Who fades and blooms, or like a poem rhymed
With unknown words that aren’t yet ever were,
Or like some seraph voice that sings the mass
As if it felt our gaiety, our rue.
At the Wall in the Borderlands
I don’t remember when there was no wall,
At first rammed earth to hedge barbarians,
And later stone to bar the clash and brawl
Of brutes who kicked against our lawful bans.
So it was said. Some swore the beasts in thrall
To necromantic arts, that on their hands
Or shoulder blades a demon scored his scrawl
To claim the soul inside the skin as Satan’s.
When I was yet a child, I found a chink
And from that chink an eye looked back at me,
The brown eye of a boy, who left a flower;
I left an agate stone. And when the ink
Of night is lit by moon, I run to see
The eye that lures me still with helpless power.