No Palm Sunday 2020

(a circular by the Welsh Congregationalist Union that nobody should visit graveyards and place flowers on graves this year).

It’s just been announced,
Palm Sunday will remain
calm this year. No straining
over graves, the annual visit,
turfing the grim smiles
of weeds who have, after all
been more than loyal companions.

No rickety or steely vases,
no cellophaned posies, hastily
removed on arrival, bought
from garage forefronts.
No use singing this year
‘Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing’.

Passing. They’ve passed
and every Easter we pass
along the hill to Cwmpengraig:
head valley rock of a field.
We lay flowers on the family grave,
grandparents staying put in their bro*.  We laugh, remembering our parents’ chaff that they’d punish us, join forces there, one day, all in one, an out of place, in-place,
so we’d suffer the jolty drive on a narrow lane
once a year. But today, the joke’s on us
as they chose the Crem de la Crème. Amen.

So we’ll miss the obligatory visit, this year,
‘necessary journeys,’ do not include the long gone dead.
No Sul y Blodau, a Sunday, Welsh with flowers
more to their liking than a Palm.
And so, we’ll not give the quiet bunch
even a leaf, or the recluse of an aunt
who left her fortune to the missionaries
somewhere far away. For years we cursed
her, until truth be told that the cat’s
charity got her cash, though not a whisker did
she possess. Still, my father, the minister, as ever,
insisted charity was in order and we should
grace her always with petals. ‘ No daffodils,
mind you,’ my aunt, ‘or  parish will  clonc’**:
their resting place detected from a hedge nearby.

For my mam-gu and dad-cu then in fair weather days,
gladioli were always the chosen ones,
since they looked a cut above the rest
magnanimous, real show-offs.                 

As for this year, Palm Sunday
will indeed be calm, a silence
instilled, a day to behold: no tripping
over gravestones, spirit level
askew from the storms; no small talk
chatter, no fellow shudderers
who’d bewail the state of the graveyard.
‘What is the world coming to’, they’d said.
and we’d nod, agree, sigh and sashay,
knowing full well that the world is coming
                            and coming for us.

March 31, 2020


(in memory of R S Thomas at a protest march in the late eighties)

You died at least once before:
that afternoon on Nott Square
when you were a ghost for peace.
Arms and legs making frost angels
of the frozen floor beneath you
you whispered, ‘we’re thin on the ground’
and I heard that tetch in your voice,
chiding, yet loving, your neighbour.

And when it thawed we rose again,
obeying the celestial claxon call
announcing a good day’s work for peace.
But I knew well enough as you waved me farewell
- now it is time to leave for home -
that the world outside would be unkind,
with its rind of rime on the road.

Us? We lingered a while,
freezing, by Ferrar’s tombstone,
that martyr who knew
the meaning of unshakeable:

For me, you had kidnapped a day

on the eve of the Sabbath, driving
the twisting road from the north
to bear witness with a motley crew
stretched longshanks on concrete.

Yet this is the poet’s true, silent protest: withdrawal.
turning in on the self, losing, losing
this world for a while.

And for the blink of an eye
there you were, your wordless banner raised
high above the clouds of witnesses.



( i’r lleiafrifoedd sydd ar wasgar)

Dysgu rhedeg yr yrfa: bach, lleied, llai, lleiaf--
ond pwy yw’r lleiaf ohonom?
Credom unwaith mai ni’r Cymry
oedd y rheiny—atodiad sy’n hen nodiant
i Loegr a fyn weithiau ei bod hi’n Brydain Fawr,
er mai bechan bach yw ar fap.
Why learn Welsh to speak
to fewer people, meddai un gŵr doeth
unwaith, neu’r gohebydd tafodrydd :
this useless language heb allu sill
na stomp ohoni. Mor fach eu byd.
Mwy, mwy, mwy, yw’r clwy sy’n ein clyw.

Ond heddiw, mae’r llai a’r lleiaf
ar wasgar, ac un ydym â hwy,
a’r anfri llai-lleied arnynt hwythau,
y ‘lleiaf rai’, ‘ gwehilion’
sy’n mynnu-- melltith arnynt--
gael to, a bondo a’n bendith;
sy’n crefu, er mor fychain ydynt,
ffest, a lluest a llewyrch;
ac un ydym ninnau, y lleiaf rai
ar wasgar yn ein bro yn llechu
rhag y sawl synhwyra’r dail ar ein lleferydd.

Wedi’r cyfan, enwyd ni’r Cymry

yn ddieithriaid, ac onid dyna paham
y deallwn y lleilai sy ar daith,
yn mwmian heb eu mamiaith;
gwydrlys o bobl ar draethell bell
pob telcyn wedi’i hyrddio ar graig
cyn disgyn i’r llanw mawr – mwy, mwy, mwy.

Nes y myn y grymoedd mawr, mwy ,mwyaf
ailenwi’r pobloedd bychan yn fachigol:
y lleied, llai, lleiaf yn troi’n nebach.

nebach* yw’r neb – heb ach,
nebach llai na lleied,
druan bach, medd rhai wrth ganu’n
iach i’r llipryn lleiaf oll.

Cyn troi yn ôl at eu byd mawr--
mwy, mwy, mwy—
Os oes mwy.


*nebach:nebbish- Yiddeg am druan bach


'So many of us have stood up for the marginalized, but never expected to be here ourselves'
Barbara Kingsolver

What I learned early on : bach = small is small, smaller, smallest;
but who is the smallest of us all?
We thought it was us, the Welsh
‘appendage’, some relic or other
of England – sometimes quipped as Great Britain,
although miniscule on any map.

Welsh is the only language you learn
to be able to talk to fewer people,
said one spin doctor or the journalist:
‘this useless language’, though she could not sound
even a syllable from her small world.
Bigger, bigger, bigger is the curse that we hear.

These days, the small and smaller
are afoot, and we are with them
the smallest ones, dregs
whose hiraeth for hearth
wants a roof, eaves even, and blessings;
who crave, though they be small,
a feast, a dwelling, a plenitude ;
and we, like them, shy away
from those who sense the leaves on our lips.

After all, we Welsh were called strangers
once by our next door neighbours,
so we understand those on the move,
mumbling without the warmth of their mother tongue;
glasswort on a faraway beach
every shard hitting rock
before it falls in the cauldron of tides.

Until the great power reconfigure their dictionaries:
as the diminiutive people:
small, small, the smallest nebbish:

a nobody, nebach—no lineage,
smaller than small
poor thing, say some as they bid adieu
to the whisper of the tiniest tribes and nations.

Before slipping back to their huge world,
larger than ever,ever, ever.


- Nebbish—Yiddish for poor thing; in Welsh neb- means nobody and ‘ach’ lineage
or ‘relation’.
Bach in Welsh is also used as a term for ‘ dear’.
- The ‘ Welsh’ is a name bestowed on us by the English and derived from the Anglo –Saxon wilisc and morphed
into Welsh—meaning foreigner / stranger.


'I always said that when I met MacDiarmid, I had met a great poet who said ‘Och’.  I felt confirmed, in that monosyllable there’s a world view nearly.'
- Seamus Heaney

O bob byd, byd yr och
sydd ynom a’r ochenaid,
gwaedd o waed y galon.
Daw o’n mêr a’n hesgyrn
a phwy a ŵyr na seiniwyd
wrth inni rannu och gyda’r ach
a fentrodd i’r Hen Ogledd.
‘Och a gwae’ ac archoll oedd,
ac o Gatraeth a’i hiraeth hir,
sill a haliwyd o’n hanfod.

O’r anair ‘och’ , arhosodd
fel llef ar wefus
i’w yngan pan fo angau
yn anhreuliedig ynom.
A hyd heddiw
yr och a erys yn ddolefus
fel blewyn ar dafod,
yr ‘O’ a’r ‘ch’
fel odl o’r anadl
nad oes carreg ateb iddi.
Yn gerdd un gair
sy’n tagu’n y gwddf,
Och bychanfyd cyfan


'I always said that when I met MacDiarmid, I had met a great poet who said ‘Och’. I felt confirmed, in that monosyllable there’s a world view nearly.'
- Seamus Heaney

Because in that world
Och is within us,
a cry of the heart’s blood.
It comes out of our bones
and murmurs in our marrow.
Yet who might savour the sound
when Och becomes Ach
as in the Old North?

Och is woe
and a wound,
the wail at Catraeth
when our world was laid waste,
one syllable
souring the source.

Halt any oath
upon the lip
but utter Och
only when death
is incandescent
within ourselves.

Today Och remains
grievous on the tongue,

its O, is CH
unabating as breath
but its echo unallowed.

It’s a song of one word
that catches the throat,
the epoch of Och
an unvanishing