Author Archives: hjs

Cadair Idris

I have not seen the mists rise on Cadair Idris –

but travelled the road that climbs from Dolwyddelan
to fall into the vast desolation of Blaenau Ffestiniog;
found rest in the silent graveyard of Merthyr Isiw
above the valley of the Grwyne Fawr; and marvelled
at the perfection of crooked places in Cwmyoy.

I have sat at the old quarry of Mynydd Llangatwg
to gaze at the chequered world and let the whisper,
the murmur, the susurration of shifting vowels
and age-old consonants bewitch me. Crug Hywel,
Aberdyfi, Machynlledd, Ceredigion, Ynys Môn –

until in my mind the mists rose on Cadair Idris.

Cadair Idris read by Les Jones

Rattray Head

One day everyone went away –
let the narrow lane fall into disrepair
and left behind the lighthouse

and all the browns,
greens and blues in the world
for the wind, the clouds and the sun

to play with.

Topsell’s Beasts revisited

You think you know
such creatures don’t exist.
No lamias with exemptile eyes
to lever out after a kill.
No fifteen-foot-necked
pliant camelopardals. And
you’ve seen no lemmings
graze in clouds.

And yet – once it was true.
They were believed in.
Like Dürer’s sad rhinoceros,
shipped all the way from India,
drowned off Italy and buried
in a woodcut: scaly legs,
a twisted horn upon his back –
I give you: the rhinoceros!

And he still is as real, as true
as any of his cousins in the zoo.
It only takes a tiny leap of faith
to believe in Topsell’s Beasts –
because you must.
Of course reindeer will make
a sound like cracking nuts
when walking

if we believe the truth
that every creature is unique –
the lamia, the camelopardal,
Dürer’s rhinoceros, and you:
unique, unfathomable
and unquestionably right 
the way you are. And this
we must believe.

Earth Rising

It rolls up like a marble
over the grey wasteland of the moon.

And Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8,
first man in outer space, the man who says
that no, he didn’t tell his family what it was like
up there when he came back, he was too busy
catching up on the nitty-gritties of family life;
the astronaut who says that weightlessness
is boring, and puking in outer space the same
it is at home: uncomfortable; the space hero
who’s never seen and can’t recall the title
of Space Odyssey; who says the Star Trek motto
To boldly go where no man’s gone before
does nothing for him – the most prosaic man
to leave the soil of this blue planet says:
Hand me a roll of color quick, would you?

A beautiful blue marble, swirls of ochre and white,
it rolls up over the grey wasteland of the moon.
We wake up on it every morning.

Somebody hand me a roll of colour. Quick.


for Jack

We only ever truly see what we are missing.

That August night in 1328
Luigi Gonzaga brought to Mantua
an ache the size of a city and
a dagger for Rinaldo Bonacolsi.
Gonzaga had a mission: he saw
nine hundred gilded rooms
he and his line must build
and fill with all of Europe’s art –
a model city floating on four lakes,
a Mount Olympus rising from
the flatness of the valley of the Po.

We only ever truly see what we are missing.

Today we visited Gonzaga’s vision:
the palaces, the frescoes, statues,
tapestries, churches and squares
in all their glory and grandezza.
I was appreciative –
but I’m afraid it did not touch me.
We’d brought a different emptiness
to Mantua; and since it’s true
we only ever see what we are missing –

ah well: I only really saw the dogs.

Carrying Jack

I lift you up gently –
look, this is how we do it –
into the cradle of my arms.

I feel your solid weight,
breathe in your smell
of old dog asleep.

I carry you down
into the garden and
set you down softly

as I used to
for so many days
when you were alive

and let you go.


In each of our lives
everyone else is a tourist.
I wonder do they find
what the brochure promised:
sights, decent food, cheap booze –
or even the experience of a lifetime?

Back home, are they going to
print out their pictures
and hang them on empty walls?
Will they share the experience,
send others my way?
Should I consider refurbishing?

Though – they say the locals
in the summer resorts can’t wait
for the rains, the cool weather and
the shutters coming down for winter.
Sometimes I think I can almost
feel the weather turning.

My Acceptance Speech

Mr President,
valued members of the Committee,
Your Excellencies.

I have come to accept
the Nobel Prize for Literature

will forever elude me.

A Balance

Plagues ancient
and plagues modern.
Abuse of children, women.
Global warming. Exploitation. Genocide.
The horsemen of the Apocalypse are riding.

Gradations of blue in hill after hill at dusk.
A man, a woman, laughing in the street.
The casual kindness of a stranger.
The smell of bread baking.
A candle in a window.
A blackbird’s song.
Piano scales.

Map reading at 60

Should I feel lost these days
I will unfold my trusty Ordnance Survey map –
brittle from many a soaking, sunshine, sweat;

and though it is coming apart at the creases,
and yellowish areas of terra incognita
are spreading out from frayed edges,

when I take off my glasses to peer
at the whorls, dots, cabbalistic symbols,
I think I can make out where I’m at – look:

miles north of this place called Despondency,
and – except for a ravine and some ridges –
not far, not so far south of Contentment at all.