Neile Graham: Three poems


I took the flower the child gave me,
not quite buttercup, a weed from
the lawn nodding sunlight into the gray
spring day. Something I didn't know
I wanted. I took it, greedy,
because it was given with a wish
to charm, because it was a home
for my imagination, glass, a stone,
handfuls of grass, a nameless flower.

I wasn't watching, really. We were
talking. He kept bringing me more
bits of grass and then something
cold on a leaf, small and moving,
so I had to see it--tiny, slow,
a slug folding away from the grasses,
drawing away from fear of the blades
touching him, not knowing what he'd
ridden into my hand. Such tiny life
moving across my palm.

I gave it back to the grasses.
The child curious I would return
a gift, let it be hidden again
in the bounties of the world,
but the flower I kept
because I could watch its beauty fade,
and the grasses I kept to guard it,
to compare. And the stone, though I have
stones in my garden already.

That child--two years old,
rich in the world so full
of things he could grant to a stranger
freely, not knowing yet this is not
his father's world, not his--wonders
that adults don't deal in this commerce,
so easy to charm, to make a human connection,
touch a hand with a handful of grass,
exchange a glance, to show
the pure emotion of his smile.

A child's gift, this grass, this flower,
and a live thing chilling my hand, small
as a drop of rain, a leaf of thyme.
What is small and beautiful and
therefore evil, small and beautiful
and therefore good.


The sheep on the green mountain.
The empty road. Owen's grey wind
on the hills--that wind
shears the sheep as well
as any clippers a man could use.
Some walk on. Some sit in hollows
chewing the pale grass.
                        This land
has stone enough to make anyone build
a castle--there, on the next hill
above the ford the sheep cross
like pebbles drifting
from a builder's hand. Out over
the distance we're in awe of
is only sky.
              The ruins
are a tangle of ivy
and nettle. We climb to look out
over another wall
to find another green rise
bothered by sheep, by stone,
by the wake of the builders,
monks and the victors of battles,

towers rising and falling to a simple
cairn of stone by the badger's
paw path in the rain the same sheep
in the hollows in all the fields,
the division of hedge and heather
and stream, the names of the fields
as old as the mud that fills them.

Each stone is from someone's tomb,
each rise is a pillow for someone's sleep,
for Owen's grey wind as we ride over
the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons
from Dinefwr to Hay where what's left
of Maud's castle is spotlit against
night sky,
            where we look for the books
that hold the words of all these
hills have told us to remember,
all these hills have told us
to build.


A rock-cut burial tomb, rare
and rectangular on the bench
below the bouldered mountain,
on green and purple heather
bright on the peat.
White stone in the promise of sun,
named for the local belief
that a dwarf made a home here--
and he or someone surely did,
made stone a hollow entrance
to a bed and a place to store
what was needed for someone's sleep.

I crawl in,
turn awkwardly and sit--
the cold of the stone
runs through my body. And I hum.
Some power there left by the hands
that shaped the careful bed,
the chambered ledges, the rim
above the door, squeezes song
from me, wordless, half voice
half vibration, the echo so close
it's my own voice beside me.

It's white in there, white
with shadow, with someone's
long sleep, with some kind
of dream like humming, like
the wind in the open, emptied
stone. Walls close as an embrace,
a dwarvish residence, a presence
in that small emptiness
humming the broken song beside me
in a language of hollow stone.

These poems originally appeared in POETRY NEWSLETTER.