Issue 8: Richard Brown

Unknown Region

Everyday rehearsals pass unnoticed,

too well known to list their uses

or argue what familiarises the familiar.

Seasonal endurance has us fair-weathered,

the sleet-infested hills perish little by little,

admired for the weight of their terminal agony.

The river so regular in its occurrence

we forget its way through the wintry, catkinned-alders,

insoluble, silvering when light haloes the bridges.

Named and wounded, we are grafted to ancestral land,

low-grade pasture, watery at the edge end of each field,

tethered with scrag-bush and thistle, cattle-mired.

North facing, sunless afternoons chasten the barns,

cloistered and reek-sealed, their moss-cankered angles

buttress the yearly change cast over by sycamores.

Inventories have counted and accosted the region,

land-ties up for rent and increasing.  Domesday

had us down and tallied-up, sweat deducted at source –

the joke still stands, lease arrears in lieu of payment.

What we know is where we are, our testimonies

are word-of-mouth, fools to write on the land

and live to regret it – epitaphs are there to testify.

Nothing lost, the swifts are back to boomerang

the viaduct’s arches, scarify evening starlight:

returning, their remembrance is our unforgetting.

Change is reliant on something else appearing

or fading, besieged by constancy and belief,

we hardly notice when inflexible things alter,

their turning is so minute, only the pressure

in the body signals shift and amendment:

air cools at dusk, thickens in the beech wood,

circulates bramble and articulates the river.

Rightly or wrongly we are a family, inherent,

obedient to the folly that binds our invention –

holes in the roof are light-shafted, we can

step in and out of epiphany, take water

from the well and slaughter what we’ve fed.

Neighbourly but not too close, we meet

at the margins of our own brand of distance,

we’ve never been known outside the region,

ordinance has its surveys, perhaps we’re peculiar,

if you’re passing, call in, the days turn down so early.

On Reading R. S. Thomas

(while watching Ivor the Engine)

Not so long ago, in the top left-hand

corner of Wales, there was a man,

he wasn’t a very well known man

and to some not a very important man,

but then when he died a parishioner

said we are now one mountain less.

Such revelations and the view

from the Marches so memorable,

looking in opposed to being out.

Borders are the bridge of not belonging,

they’re there to be crossed, the other side

is perhaps the underside of elsewhere:

the stink from Grumbly Gas Works,

the station at Llaniog, the first stop

before the long journey into the West.

Iago Prytherch and his sweaty wife

had you stopping over for ordination,

to polish the heavy stones of the field,

administer to the parish as best to needs.

The discreet dialectics that confused

allegiance and alliance, to be betweeded

or not to be betweeded, was that the question.

To be answerable seems the right line

of inquiry, realism has its uncouth aesthetic

and peasants are more real than the land,

making a claim to inhabit with worn tools,

slitting surface wounds that will never heal,

landed with what they’ve got in gratuity.

Getting in and getting out is the paradox

that performs so well in the divine vision,

to enter into or to have been entered

debates the same notion of faith and nation,

the two were visibly astride each other,

both wanting the same bound confession,

to surrender hands down to nonconformity.

Iago and friends give thanks for being saved,

released from the land that had them so gaunt,

penned high on a hill in a gap of cloud.

Now, Mrs Porty knew you well, the right

kind of reader, nothing is done down more

than self, deprecation in the wood of lies.

There’s a kind of grace in the top left-hand

corner of Wales and yet further on Bardsey,

the migrants that followed their right of return

knew how you kept watch, marking their line

as a route back to a once worshiped place.

At Llaniog, Dai Station discusses

the absence of mountains in Wales.

Richard Brown was born in Sheffield and his work has appeared in magazines and anthologies. He received an MA in Holocaust Studies and Jewish Diaspora Literature from Sheffield University and has taught in America and Germany. He has given readings at Off The Shelf, Sheffield's festival of literature, and in 2010 he was invited by the British Council to present his poetry at Harare International Festival of the Arts. He is currently working towards his first full collecton of poetry and works as a teacher and freelance writer.

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