At Ladywell Cemetery.
— i.m. David Jones, and for members of the Mills and Clark families, also buried there.
In tangled aisles, blank naves,
between the playing-card stones
no prayer but rain engraves,
we found where Private Jones
lies with the shield he loans.
We looked for others, too –
the little uncle who
sad, octogenarian aunts.
How deep and complicated,
their deaths, their burial.
They learned to count, to read
and write, but wrote too small.
Where are they all?
From Mametz Wood and Loos,
mouths blaze with rhyme, but when
Demos sifts the chaos,
we watch how class writes men,
in every stripe of pen.
One swanned the lakes of learning,
one peered through a crack.
The languid, Latin-turning,
the print-boy at his rack
of type, illuminate
gulfs of entitlement.
Then Olwen whispers, Wait!
The hard bench where you learnt
your place is innocent.
Old wealth? A family-tree?
There’s deeper treachery
if, from a blasted lung,
dead ayres are wrung,
or neurasthenic sighs
to a courtier’s moon.
These are my secret eyes,
my dark platoon:
and raw South London’s foundling
prince of the white caer,
who salvaged the shelled kindling,
charmed a twelve-tone lyre
from the common fire.
We took some pictures, paused
and wandered on,
tourists of the unhoused,
searchers for the unknown,
for chipped wings flown
the vaults and various hollows
of their last battle-field;
names in mossy shallows,
the randomly spilled
breath almost held.
Their parenthetical graves
would barely stain the year,
but he, bright-shielded, weaves
trefoil and sweet-briar,
and binds our mound-kin, here.
Olwen – in Welsh myth, a goddess of the underworld.
Dinnseanchas – Irish, a litany of significant place-names and characters.
Mound-kin – the term is borrowed from “The Tutelar of the Place”, David Jones, 1961:
“Remember the mound-kin, the
kith of the tarren gone from
this mountain because of
the exorbitance of the Ram…”
The binding of the wild flowers was suggested by the “Queen of the Woods” passage in part 7 of In Parenthesis.
I’ d meet you in the Summer Garden
where trash and dumped rose-heads foil the glitter
of the wrecked seafacing window. Tsar Petya —
who saw washed sails rise from a Deptford midden –
would still be flying his dead horse.
Linking hands, we’d stroll across Europe,
to bury our kindly chestnut passports
under the rusty patch where Tsvetayeva’s rope
sucked out the bitter hook. They’d torch our bodies,
like royal children in the secret room,
because we’d made fun of the national anthem:
“Your cof/ fee is/ red/ee my bute/ eeful/ laydee”
Rossiya, if your face, if the bridge, if senseless lies…
I’m fading into your lensless eyes. I kiss you.
Carol Rumens has published a number of collections of poetry, including, most recently, Animal People (Seren, Cardiff 2016), Perhaps Bag: New and Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, NY 2017) and Poems 1968-2004 (Bloodaxe 2005). Her pamphlet, Bezdelki/ Small Things (2018), has recently been published by the Emma Press. She writes a regular poetry blog, ‘Poem of the Week,’ for The Guardian, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.