Silver Branch series
Angela Graham is from Belfast. She turned to writing full time in 2017 following a career in Wales as a film maker and screenwriter, in both English and Welsh. Her poetry has appeared in The North, The Honest Ulsterman, Poetry Wales, The Ogham Stone, The Open Ear, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Interpreter’s House, CAP 2020 Anthology, Black Bough Poetry, The Blue Nib, Heartland, Places of Poetry, The Stony Thursday Book and elsewhere.
What you murmur, I drink.
I thirst, you pour.
You have divined me under rock.
Beneath your snow I sensed a spring.
A hard passage and, at the issue,
A narrow way.
Be it a needle’s eye our loves flow through,
So long as they conjoin, I’ll not complain.
A vein subverts the rock, unbinds the ice.
Winter has gone away.
Published in Black Bough - Deep Time (volume 2)
Quite All Right, Thank You
I take you through the forest’s entanglements
till it releases us into this glade.
Silence enough for a bird’s voice to reach us
from one of the forest’s other rooms.
Palisades of pewter-coloured trees rise around,
stand without moving their heads, but they are
looking down, at your features, holding, in the pool
till I smash them to rocking chaos. Uneasy,
you move away, though I’ve done nothing untoward
− merely uncreated you without a word.
Published in Black Bough - Deep Time (volume 2)
The platter of water we came across
beside a back road through the hushed fields
outside Caledon, its surface glassy.
a shock − to feel a pulse
beating beneath that skin.
Among the emptied-out
– relinquished farms, decayed estates –
I found the capacity to be
full of deep-rooted power.
Forthcoming in Black Bough's 'Freedom/ Rapture' edition (2021)
Journaling heart, I read your steady record
Not as a pledge of permanence but a wry reminder
That you’ll let me down one day, your ink run dry.
Unfazed, you tell me your account will stand, now
And in eternity where I, suffused with story,
Will swim in narrative – each life that ever lived
An open book: beginning, middle, and an end
That buds unendingly. Isn’t heaven this –
To know and to be known? I’d best be about my work,
You chide me, for what’s the point of all these days
If not to build a house of love, underway
Here, and there roofed with an answered “Why?”
By imperceptible degrees, a chaste star
rising above stones.
I knew you loved me.
Something in me spoke to your buried youth.
Your weathered asperity
was shouldered aside
by imperceptible degrees…
Bruiseable again, you looked into me;
I am the rune-bearer sent to a blind queen.
I cannot speak; she cannot see
So I run her fingers over each notch and whorl,
Willing her to take the message in.
She merely laughs, bids me return with something tellable.
But I am charged.
I string my hips with cameos
And fasten anklets of impressive symmetry,
With subtle intaglios grace each elbow
And in the hollows of my back and knees
I set a lover’s token, feelable.
I climb into her lap. Am spurned.
I take her to an earldom
Pitted with lava lakes
Where, in the sulphurous, pressured air,
Will she intuit our exhausted State
Or send me back
To the fate of every thwarted messenger?
To the Mapper of Holy Wells and Springs
The question that running water asks
− pools hold its gaze, reflecting, and rocks,
under the frost’s advice, consider
its crystallizing, night after winter night –
you are right to believe it must be listened for;
right to condemn our mania for dogma.
Expert attendant, steady yourself.
Brim. Hear. Say, ‘Yes’.
The blackbird is sewing in the rockery,
his yellow treadle-needle beak
at work precisely in the gravel.
I am embroidering −
pierce, pull through, then up
and down again across this lawn.
Both of us are seeding
but he is stitching Spring.
Moon, Landing (20th July 1969 )
I was moon-hungry, ten years old,
So I set a mirror on the beach
And lay in wait that night.
Moon landed there, looked up
And was a child! Like me, an only child,
Tentative and curious, hoping to play.
To have him as my friend, I saw
I’d have to let him go
And come at will. Chastened, I prayed
That all the astronauts would lose their appetites.
Published in Black Bough - Issue 2 (Apollo 11 edition)
Angela's new prose collection with Seren Books
Image credit Wikipedia
Inspired by the central panel of Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece (1510 – 1515) painted for a hospital ward for sufferers from a disfiguring skin disease which is mirrored in the depiction of Christ.
The painter took my neighbour from his bed and nailed him to the wall, hammering his left hand, then his right, far apart on a wide crossbeam, pleating his feet, pinning them with a single blow − the body, hooked on its own bones, a sack of pain, sagging. The painter turned. His gaze raked our rows of beds. His finger pointed to the hanging man: This is your God.
At night I hear my neighbour, in his bed beside me, whimpering, or cursing. Sometimes he tears his suppurating flesh, screaming, “I hate you!” and the sisters have to bind his hands above his head. Then there are two men: one in the bed; one on the wall: This is your God.
I watch the morning light approach them. Neither sleeps. The one beside me stinks. The other twists against a blackness set to swallow him. His skin is greenish, every pore a mouth eating itself. He mirrors me: This is your God.
Am I, then, God? And is God me? I am that tortured one? The sisters retch when they tend me but they hold my eyes in theirs – as the painter did through those long days when he sat and watched us all; when he came and put his finger to my pulse and, for some reason, knelt beside me, suddenly.
Photo credit: Phil Cope 2020 (see end of feature for biography)
Inspired by three photographs of lichen on stones in the Garw Valley by Phil Cope, (Nov. 2020)
The message, when it comes, can’t be mis-taken:
three stones, half-sunk in Cwm Garw sod:
a perfect triangle, two suns,
in white, in black − Here is your God.
My triptych: a nova, a black hole,
at the right hand and the left of the perfect Three
in lichen and in mottled reddish stone.
I am its shrine, my mind its sanctuary.
I used to try so hard to turn to stone
− I would at least out-last my torturers –
but, so I’d opt for flesh, God
became stone and met me where I was
− he always will − summoning me out
into the human self. O lichen
cosmos, O Trinity forever at my feet,
un-shutter me so that my gaze can listen.
"Poetry offers an intensity of focus and the discipline of form. These combat laziness in perception or expression. I tell myself, ‘Do the work. See. Say. Listen.’ I try to produce a poem that has the beauty appropriate to its nature, a poem that allows the reader and me to share a world. A good poem is a Silver Branch, both key and door"
The poet, Glen Wilson mentored Angela towards the completion of her debut collection of poetry which is being considered for publication.
She is working on a collection of poetry on the theme of Sanctuary. This will be partly collaborative. Glen is Angela’s mentor and she is writing one poem with each of four poets. Two of these will be either asylum seekers or refugees; the others are poet and migration activist, Viviana Fiorentino and writer and photographer, Phil Cope. Angela has received a S.I.A.P. Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in support of this project.
An earlier S.I.A.P. Award helped Angela complete the first draft of her novel, Thorn about conflict over language and identity in Northern Ireland.
Phil Cope (photographer of 'Three Stones')
Cardiff-born Phil Cope is a photographer, writer, and exhibition and book designer. These images come from the book he’s currently working on which will be published by Seren in June 2021. It’s entitled The Golden Valley, a visual biography of the Garw (where he lives)
Previous books of his include Altarations: New Photographs of Vodou Altars (Ffotogallery, 2000); Let Paul Robeson Sing! a Celebration of the Life of Paul Robeson and His Relationship with Wales (Paul Robeson Cymru, 2001); Wise and Foolish Dreamers: Wales and The Spanish Civil War (Welsh Centre for International Affairs, 2007); Holy Wells Cornwall (Seren, 2010); Holy Wells Scotland (Seren, 2015); and The Living Wells of Wales: New Photographs and Old Tales of Our Sacred Springs, Holy Wells and Spas (Seren, 2019).
You can contact Phil Cope at firstname.lastname@example.org.