Silver Branch special:
This is a second Silver Branch series special feature from Welsh writer, Dai Fry. It's a privilege, once again, to publish Dai's prose and poetry in the series. His work has been featured in previous Black Bough publications and will also be in future editions. This extended feature is a digital chapbook and we hope you enjoy and savour it as much as we do.
Hugely grateful to Dai for being so generous with his work - a true friend to our press. He's also published in Re-Side, Hellebore Press, Pangolin Review, Pork Press, The Failure Baler, Heron Clan and Fevers of the Mind.
Dai was nominated by Black Bough poetry for the Pushcart Prize in 2020. He will be nominated for 'Best of the Net' in 2021 for the poem 'Ink Black'.
Our thanks to Min Tabb and Dai for photos.
To read Dai's first Silver Branch feature, Christmas Special 2020, please click here
Tears cried alone.
This becoming, unshackled,
immured in solitude’s embrace.
Surrender to a spate of salty rain.
A torrent of silence,
all thought confined.
Quiet, but for the breeze
between glass and curtain.
In quiet rooms, blurred glimpses
of a wondrous infinity.
At the end of all time,
a rapture, as bodies were
ripped from the ground.
While the earth spun, wild
burnt the heart of the sun.
But my bones remained
at rest in earth-dark,
still as sleeping stones.
Storm, no Fear
The storm song hammers
green hills, the tempest was wrath.
The sky takes a primordial breath.
as hard rain washed the colour
from my eyes. Clothes were peeled
from skin as fire bolts struck in falling rain.
An elemental spirit is risen, lit
blue-white against stormed sky.
Man on the Moon
I can see you, my love
From crater’s shadow stretched long
A blue and white vision
In moon’s dark day sky
Dusty, burnt with stars
My eyes tear, I brace my heels
Into the regolith
Twist off my helmet
I seek the whisper of a rumour
An alteration so subtle
It is almost without meaning.
This dark power
Binder of galaxy, cosmos.
Its presence as absence revealed
A breath exhaled, a shadow left behind.
Black wave, full of twisting stems and pods,
driven by angry storm and wild spirits.
Smell the negative ions, dark anions.
Listen, it's the breath of the Kraken.
From the depths, a giant foaming cauldron
Forged in iron by angry gods.
I am for the wild-green waters
Trust to the blue and white winds
My legs, weed wrapped, ocean-gifted.
I could live here, for forever and a day.
Silence, slow my personal terrors.
In a raw instant,
All truth is faced alone.
Listen, hear fading babel,
A peculiar auricular quality.
Quiet monks, under photon crowns
Hymns unuttered, always seeking.
Light craves a darkness
Silence the wide horizon.
Face the void, undone.
Bonfires over Tycoch
“Listen butt", said John, "if you must know we don’t have much truck with Halloween 'round here. It's just some American thing for little kids, where they dress up and beg for chocolate. Pretty tame stuff if you ask me. Here we have real villains and we know what to do with them. We burn 'em on bonfires. That's what happens to people who try and blow up the Houses of Parliament.”
Well John should know. He’s sixteen and a half.
It's Monday 9th of October and Mum and Dad have had some bad news; Gwen has just phoned to say that Vernon died yesterday while playing tennis in Seattle. Dad used to play tennis with him and said that he was "a bit too bloody energetic for my liking". The poet Vernon Watkins was getting quite famous and had gone to the States to read his poems. I’ve never heard him read any but he’s the only poet we know and the first Dad I’ve ever heard of that’s died. We are all shocked. I’m wondering what I’ll say to his kids when we next see them.
It is now less than a month to Guy Fawkes night and we have a lot to do. First, we need to borrow a pram and then build a guy: an old stocking for the head, moth-eaten balaclava, old shirt and trousers with knotted ankles and cuffs. All finished off with a manky blanket.
Uch a fi, it really stinks. Anyway, we stuff him with newspaper and 'Bob's your uncle'… Guy Fawkes in the flesh. We wheel him down to Tycoch Square and on to Sketty, taking it in turns to sing the song, calling out “Penny for the Guy” whilst shaking the bucket.
After collecting what we can, he lives in the hall until his time is come. With my pocket money and two bob a week from my paper round, plus a few jobs around the house, I reckon that I'm on track to fill a large cardboard box with fireworks. No sweets for a while but it’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make. Anyway, I'm fourteen and probably too old for sweets. Soon it will be whisky and cigarettes for me - just joshing you.
Now my all-time favourites are 'Air Bombs' because you can hold them without Dad's gardening glove and if you are a good shot you can fire them into the drain, where they explode like land mines. 'Jackie Jumpers' are excellent as you never know where they are going to go. Don’t get me wrong, I like the pretty ones too: 'Silver Fountains', 'Traffic Lights', 'Mount Vesuvius', 'Golden Showers', 'Screechers', 'Banshees', 'Vampire Bats', 'Helicopters', 'Mine of Serpents', 'Roman Candles', 'Snowstorms' and 'Aeroplanes' but not 'Catherine Wheels' as they never work properly.
The trouble with collecting fireworks is that we go out every night and set them off in the road. Luckily, we are old enough to buy our own and they're really cheap especially if you buy them in boxes. I don't know about you, but I find that fireworks add a certain something when you’re hanging around. It can get really boring in the winter when we can't play in the fields and it is always cold and raining. We've now discovered 'Cannon Bangers' which cost an extra halfpenny but are much more explosive. Next year, I think I’m going to try to make my own with the weedkiller from the shed and some white sugar from the kitchen. Not sure about the fuse yet.
Apart from making the guy, which can earn you a good few shillings, there were other things to do. Firstly, we get some rubber tubing, cut it into two-foot lengths with one end taped shut. Now you have a banger gun. Light the banger and when it starts fizzing drop it into the tube fizz-end first. Then, just point it and wait. You can buy 12 bangers for a bob - not bad at a penny a go. You can also drop them into puddles and ponds and they'll whizz around like torpedoes until they explode sending a shock of water into the air. I heard that a boy in Mayhill tried to flush one down his Mum's toilet, but it wouldn't go. He got into terrible trouble, amongst other things.
We start collecting the wood. Any wood will do, but you need much more than you think. For a spectacular fire, everybody has to collect as much as they can; it's got to be dry and you have to watch out for nails, especially if you’re wearing daps. Some people use car tyres, but we're not allowed. Dads says the smoke can cause cancer and, anyway, the neighbours won't like it.
We have a ruined pigsty in our garden which is handy and keeps the wood dry. For the next month, various sizes of wood were left outside our front door. These were all taken to the sty to join the other pieces of wood. We will start building the fire at the beginning of Guy Fawkes’ week. As the days pass, my firework collection slowly grows. I keep the box at the side of my bed so I can look at the fireworks whenever I want. It's a marvel watching the pile get bigger and bigger.
Each night, I lie under my eiderdown with my trusty torch, a Vesta Vixen transistor radio and a fairly battered copy of 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen'. Mum says that when I finish, she will buy me 'The Owl Service', though between you and me I am in no hurry. It's just too good.
One day, we open up a few fireworks in the shed and make a big pile of gunpowder on Dad’s workbench. Twp Pete drops a match in and the flare takes his eyebrows off. It had to be him, didn’t it? In the last week the pace really picks up. Clear skies and cold nights are good but, most importantly, it’s dry and is likely to stay that way.
Two days before everyone comes over, we start to build the bonfire in the side garden. Dad builds a large wooden wigwam frame and we slowly fill it, small pieces in the middle. He then uses his wooden step ladder to place the guy at the top. It is securely tied with bailing twine. He wobbled around so much we were convinced he was going to fall, but he has the balance of a ‘Big-Top’ artist. He doesn’t look like one, though.
There'll probably be 25 of us there. We have food and drink and hot chocolate. I find Mum dancing in the kitchen. She’s singing along to Daydream Believer - not too well - but her dancing is good. I prefer the Move or Scott McKenzie; they fit better with my new vibe. I’m definitely growing my hair. It’s already over my ears and no one’s said anything yet.
True excitement, it's Guy Fawkes night at last. No one can stay still; the buzz is electric. I’m surprised everyone’s hair isn’t standing on end. We all bring our boxes out on to the lawn and Dad lights the bonfire. He throws a large can of paraffin over the wood to ensure that everything starts with a bang… it does. We each light a small length of rope and blow on it till it glows and we’re ready to go.
It's only 7 degrees (that’s 44.6 Fahrenheit to you) but I’m sure we will soon warm up. Mum has baked potatoes which will be finished in the fire. There's a huge pot of baked beans, fried sausages, white sliced bread spread with margarine and a big bowl of grated cheese with Tomato and Brown Sauce and Colman’s mustard, which makes your nose burn. You have to be careful not to drop your sausage or spill sauce down your coat 'cause Mum will be furious.
The grown-ups have beer and we have dandelion and burdock pop. Some of the grown-ups let us have sips of their beer. The cat wisely makes himself scarce. I don’t think that Guy Fawkes is his thing.
Dad sets off some rockets in old bottles, but it's mainly a free-for-all with everyone lighting fireworks and throwing bangers. This is the best night of the year. We dance in and out of the flames, creatures of shadow and firelight.
Unfortunately, in the middle of all this fun tragedy strikes. A spark from the bonfire lands in my box. Fireworks start to go off and although I try to pull them out it is too late. The whole box goes up and although it is fairly spectacular, they are not at their best. I am heartbroken. I nearly cry.
There are plenty more fireworks. The bonfire is a fiery sheet of flame. I can feel it raw and powerful. There’s still plenty to eat and drink. The first sparklers are nearly impossible to light but before long we are all writing our names in the sky.
After, we all have enamelled mugs of hot chocolate. Three cheers for Guy Fawkes and Hip Hip Hurray for bonfire night! As I take a quiet moment amidst all the fire, explosives and chaos, I look down the hill and out towards Swansea Bay. Bonfires flicker like an advancing army and the land is full of smoke and exploding rockets. The smell of burnt gunpowder fills my nose. It is good moment to be alive.
Astronauts of Tycoch, 1963
Take your seats please - on this rusty, corrugated, iron sheet - Swansea's first interstellar spaceship. A wet paste of melting snow and boot mud greets us and its jagged edges, old nail holes, some with nails still in place. I make out the letters … 'sea Inc'… in white gloss paint described across the middle.
It is only now that I sense the first stirrings of real fear. We are five exotic travellers, our duffel-coated space suits complimented by bobble hats and home-knitted scarves. Wellington boots are already filling up with wedges of watery snow, slipping down to warm woollen space socks. Below us, an impossibly steep hill of packed snow-ice flowing down dangerously to meet the houses below. The front of ‘Atlas’ has been bent up using bricks, large stones and the brute force that children know. It now resembles a large, industrial sleigh. I am coming round to the idea that if I bury my face deep in my cold-wet duffle coat, none of this will be real. I’ll survive until teatime: fish paste sandwiches, Bara Brith cake with salted butter, all washed down with tea from the big, clay pot.
A field away at the bottom of the hill, a low wall separates Philip's side garden. There's a drop six-feet down to a concrete yard, hard as stolen diamonds; on our side, a snow ramp. Some say this is for braking, others are much more inclined to say this is to boost flight. Jammed tight in a wedge of fear and wet wool, we wait for blast-off. A collective shiver as the countdown commences. Nigel flexes his knees and prepares to launch us into the void. Test pilots don't expect long lives and we are made of the right stuff.
"Come on mun, let's get it over with!" I holler.
However, it seems like the ship may jam with the combined weight of three boys, one girl and Carlo the dog (who is not expected to survive the complete journey).
A second body joins Nigel and so, at last, with a grating of metal on ice we move forward and slowly pick up speed. I feel my insides pitch as our velocity builds, the 'G' force is remorseless. I realise that we've given no thought as to how we can steer or brake. This must be how John Glenn felt hurtling into the stratosphere, sitting on top of tons of explosives. He wouldn’t have been able to steer or brake either. So it was that in a couple of seconds I am feeling much more cheerful, though I can't imagine why? We are soon hurtling down the hill impossibly fast. High-pitched screams echo off the snowfields and the green pines. In the dark of the trees, the red squirrels keep a very low profile. Carlo, the dog, barks loud enough to scare a thousand cats.
Before we know it, we are ascending the ramp, hardly losing any speed at all.
There is a moment of blissful weightlessness before four Welsh astronauts and the first dog in space fall, a full six feet on to the diamond fields of the moon.
Keep your nailed gods,
grand halls, cherubs
and baby clouds.
Imagined peace is
inked and dark-pricked
Calm, deep, unambiguous.
Float in conjured dreams,
a phantom amongst
the indifferent caresses
of drowned weeds.
But below, aphotic waters
no trace of green.
Bereft of sun
in cool shadow under
their own light, deep
swimmers passing slow.
Xmas Ghost Story
I saw a Christmas card
on the mantlepiece,
black and white, linocut lands.
Moon-bright, a child's dark forest,
winter stripped and frosted.
Old wood is slowly weaving. Spirits
lurk, malevolent, malcontent.
Bones are creaking. A stirring.
It is heart-deep in the Wych elm.
She wakes hungry for
warm blood is in her forest.
Trees bare arthritic fingers,
lichen and moss tines point.
My shadow elongated, flows back
along dark forest paths.
Peril gathers her skirts, picks up pace.
Brittle wood cracks under her urgency.
I hurry to the moon, fast
goes my panting breath.
Everything stretched bare,
no place to hide. Fear
hammers at my veins.
An ancient evil has stirred.
And I, a long way from home.
In shadow lands, the forest is waking.
Long thin arms rake the ground.
Our heavy wooden door and log fire
are still a full night away.