The Cantref of Pebidiog

I am a man, upo da land,
I am a selkie i da sea.


‘How far have you come?’ she asked when we arrived.
‘As far as it’s possible to go’, I sighed,
‘And from what feels like another country.’
And to all her other questions I replied:
‘Like a lizard crawling out of its own skin,
We escaped the burning towers of London
That glowed in our minds like a shattered bulb
Through Reading, Swindon, Bristol and Cardiff
Until, with the sun setting over Swansea,
We turned north, to open our shuttered eyes
Like a dragon waking on a bed of gold
Green as the grass beneath heaven’s white sky.’

Where the old maps bore on the blank vellum
Beyond Offa’s Dyke the words ‘Here be dragons!’
It was taken by Saxons and Norman kings
To designate a place of monstrosity,
Of unknown dangers between myth and legend.
But what if it meant that here was a land
Where magic still wrestles with religion
And fabulous beasts crawl up the margin;
That here, nothing is inadmissible
To the unconquered mind, the uncompliant spirit,
Where wizards cast spells, bards their poetry,
And men their lines into the mermaid sea?

Here is where we stop asking whether we’re there,
For there is no destination to get to here,
No place other than the one we’re in now,
The rotating ground on which we’re walking
In the passing moment between each stride,
Distant as the longing of seagull cries.
And here is always wherever we stand
And there a mirage we will never reach,
An affliction of the mind unable to meet
What here we might at last encounter
Among violet of heather fading to orange
With the promise of Autumn’s return.

And when I sleep upon the moor
      The heather grows into my dreams
And when upon the moor I sleep
      Into my dreams the heather grows


Turned all day on the lathe of the sun,
Brown as a chestnut held in the flames,
Black as seaweed combed back by the wind,
White as sea-shells winking up from the sand,
Blue as the noon of her shaded glance —
The jettisoned colours of a spindrift girl
Thrown up by memory’s ceaseless wave
Return to me at the cleft of the bay
Where an adder waits on the downward path,
A barbed shaft curled to an arrow head,
And a tide of lust rises in my veins
As I descend into the dampening dusk.

Consciousness, without consciousness of self,
As in the first moment of waking from sleep,
When awareness is all on a fold in the sheet,
The discomforts of a recumbent form,
The familiar smell of the night’s pillow,
Or the weight and warmth of a lover’s touch,
Awakens in the black eyes of a seal pup
As it lies in the shade of the half-moon bay
On which he’s come into this crashing world,
And all he can feel is the stone by his head,
The wet sand in his fur, and the cold tread
Of the rising tide against his useless feet.

Beyond the seaward cliff of Dinas Mawr
Where offerings were made to the godless sea,
On a bed of rock just proud of the waves
A grey seal bathes in the morning sun,
Wrapped in a patched cloak of silver-trimmed fur,
Warm as a woman’s body under a duvet.
I kiss her wearily lifted, whiskered lips,
And take in mine the bear’s paw from which
Fifty million years have not trimmed the claws,
And hand in flipper we swim together
Down the ice-cut steps of the Celtic Sea
To hear the Ocean’s murmured prophecies.

And when she swims across the bay
      The ocean flows into her blood
And when across the bay she swims
      Into her blood the ocean flows


Yet even here the sorcerers wield their fear.
On the island summit of Carn Llidi
With the Pembroke coast lapping at her feet,
A woman sits by a Stone-age burial
And stares at a screen of liquid crystal
More interesting to her than all the world.
And where sea-clawed cliffs fall to salmon sands
A cormorant dives on a seabass
Vacuum-sealed in a Tesco’s plastic bag,
And the prettiest cow in the calving bay
Is being slowly strangled by a necklace
Fashioned from some discarded human trash.

Never have we lived in a smaller world,
Never lived with a more limited vision
Of life on earth than the one we’ve inflicted
On the whole planet, so eager are we
To see ourselves reflected in every screen
In every species, every human face.
But we shall make ourselves monstrous again,
Slaves, beggars and thieves escaped from your lies.
You won’t recognise us as human anymore
When we rise up and wash your world away
In a wave of horror born from the disaster
Into which we’ve been sinking all our lives.

We will evolve flippers and grow silver skins
Glinting red in the fires that consume you.
We’ll abandon the land you have poisoned
And dive into the mountains of the sea,
Our eyes grown glassy as we search the depths
For the mysteries of life before life.
Soon, we won’t even remember your name,
Your world become as irrelevant to us
As ours is now to you. Finally, even
Your grasping hands will have fallen from our sides
As we propel ourselves through the waters
By desire alone, we shape-shifters of the deep.

And when we swim into our dreams
      The ocean sleeps upon the moor
And when into our dreams we swim
      Across the moor the ocean sleeps

— Simon Elmer

More poems by the same author:

Freedom Day

Parking in Fletching

The Battle of Hyde Park

The Nuremberg Defence

Open for Business

The Red Lady of Paviland

Explaining a Few Things

Definitely London Town

Holy Island

The Unlawful Killing of Ian Tomlinson

 The Aylesbury Wall

When We Marched For Homes


New Left Revue (Being for the Benefit of Mr. Assange)

The Nation’s Favourite Poem

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