The last forty odd years
Brethren, be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil,
prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith. (Epistle of Peter, 5:8)
I remember the miner’s strike
though I spent most of it
squandering an industrial injuries settlement
in sunnier parts of the world.
I remember a small town in Provence
where I was living in 1984,
we went to the café one afternoon
as they were doing a whip-round for our miners
there was a hatful of cash and I was moved
almost to tears
these gnarled old guys were all on benefits
their own mine had been closed for nearly 20 years
solidarité avec les mineurs gallois.
Scarab, scarab; scab, scab.
Same year, near Cognac, Monsieur Oger,
the producteur for whom I worked
came screeching through the vineyard
to inform us cheerily that Thatcher had been blown
to smithereens (he was misinformed).
– Now, you kill my dragon I’ll fix yours:
windbag, braggart, blabbermouth,
like so many of your kind –
Watch your stepping:
my name means bane, ruin, imprecation
but never mind the curse words or the threats
when the lights go out I could be anyone.
Scarab, Scarab; scab, scab.
Like Thales of Miletus I fell down a well
staring at the sky, but never let go
my bottle of Glenmorangie.
I was at the Council of Trent in 1562
fourth from the left, below the Cardinals,
moaning to deaf Plotinus about my piles.
In 1981 on the beach at Geráni my pal Manos calls out
Long live Bobby Sands, not that this was viable.
In Thebes we were 150 pairs of gay lovers
destroyers of Sparta but slaughtered in our turn by Alexander;
he made my head spin too, but oh that joyful mayhem
that merciless widow-making carnage
made me hot for bratwurst.
And when you saw your teacher’s mighty sword,
Dave, did you laugh? (scarab, scarab) –
did you bow down before your PE master’s
deformed tool, after sneaking out to spy on Sir
shagging Matron, doggy-style?
Did you get therapy afterwards? Did she?
Here in Thebes we started eating bratwurst
when the Nazis came in ‘41, and haven’t stopped since.
Nothing like tucking into a big fat sausage
after spilling blood.
The bad poets laugh (scab, scab);
the good poets turn their backs in shame.
You can travel as much as you want mate
but one rule is universal
the rich always end up on top
while the poor scratch the floor for fag-ends
and poetry can’t do a damn thing about it.
Council of Trent, Santa Maggiore Church, Trento, Italy 1562 (unknown 17th century artist)
Richard Gwyn is currently preparing an anthology of contemporary Latin American Poetry, for publication by Seren in 2016. He lives in a small village in north-eastern Spain.