- The Red Kite Experience
- a sequence poem in seven
parts by Norman Jope
with digitized cartographic images by John Mingay
through Radnor, from Knighton
for Kenny Knight.
We chase the mascot down the track
past Knighton's clock tower shadow
and follow the dream through Middle Earth
as reality yields to the brochures -
but its 'liquid flight'
is a constant,
even in the absence
of the bird that used to feed
from the hands of Londoners
with its russet-chestnut plumage,
its silvery head
and fork of a tail.
A fox leapt from that viaduct,
caught between hunters and navvies
in the summer of 1925 -
now Knucklas snoozes in its valley,
the hill humps strewn
across the green of an eye.
Beyond the pastures
that are stippled white
with sheep that are used
to the thrice-daily rattle,
Radnor Forest rises
in a mineral whisper -
but there are flower containers on platforms,
horses, bikes and slogans
such as Safety Speed Efficiency Comfort.
This line through a landscape
stands in for the landscape.
It would take too long
to colour in the grass
by trampling every blade
on a thousand-mile walk.
So we trace the idyll
over tracks to Llandrindod -
to its colonnades, gables, towers and cupolas,
balconies, oriels, turrets and railings,
porticos and balustrades, façades and loggias,
its terracotta fronts where the sheep once fed.
Colonels still think of Nuwara-Eliya or Simla.
The ghosts of parasols flap softly in the showers
where 80,000 a season once escaped
to Commodore, Glen Usk and Metropole
to drink from The Well In The Cuckoo's Nest
or the fountain in The Blacksmith's Dingle.
The water rusts when exposed,
becomes as brown as dried-up blood
but cures anaemia beside the tap.
It tastes of angels' tears with a hint of sulphur -
the tears of Geraldine and Christabel
in waterfall fronds that hang.
The air is so clean that it scours the insides.
Hygeia waves her wand and the cars slink off
as Edward and Alice book in at the Gwalia
to the sound of brass bands and the hubbub from the
stretching down the Rock Park slopes to the source of
where morning suits and top hats punctuate the green -
then the delegates pace off their lunches
and pretend Victorians flounce annually
to picnics at Cefnllys and Shaky Bridge,
as prim as the Canada Geese on the waters
picked off by red kites when the brochures turn blind
according to an instant myth.
From the Old Church's plinth,
its cockerel spire looks out
on a portion of a coloured county -
but the Sheela-Na-Gig in the building
looks out over her fanny,
womb of the bird of the brochures.
The Elgarian echoes
that envelop Llandrindod,
as the Elan's corset,
on the Cefnllys road
where a polecat
into a brake,
where the cows are huge
and bulge with liquid
and the sheep are impossibly white,
halfway between clouds and stones.
In a Palmer valley, it is evensong -
St. Michael's Church is power-shorn
with its wooden roof and crucifix.
The graves are weed-meshed
as they witness
the obliteration of their Logos.
Green is laid on green,
from chrysoprase to emerald -
merged with melancholy greys.
To the east,
there are badland lumps,
the remnants of a Cambrian dreamtime.
I can see right out of my skin.
But to what extent can an eye dislodge
to insert itself in a landscape?
No words can answer that question.
I must enter the silence of this place
and ask and listen again
as a faint breeze ruffles the grass,
and the page my heartbeat moves
with the sun and the other wings.
She detourns the church,
this fish with a woman's head.
I touch her vulva with my finger
to erase two thousand years
as light projects the stained glass patterns
across the walls like harlequin scripts,
the rainbows of a different faith -
her open cunt is stone,
but all the wider for that
against the woven cushions
with their names of saints
who lift their croziers against her
as she just keeps coming.
Her blood is on the carpet,
stained to a laudanum crimson.
It is on the walls in tourmaline
as if this church -
a curate's pristine skull -
was about to be washed away
in volcanic flow.
Return to the Mother!
the Maiden snarls
and the robes fall
from her torso -
she sticks her finger into the secret,
pulls out plums and rubies,
babies, foals and aubergines,
a shoal of objects in an ocean of blood.
The piety of Church Parades
and half-digested Kilvert
yields to the red kite's talons,
to the wingspan of the pipistrelle -
not good, but true and therefore beautiful,
these pigments of the Savage Garden.
These are the sentinel quarters
whose names diminish in translation -
Rhydoldog and Cefnbychan.
Beneath them in Rhayader
there are cottages of tawny stone
where, at the monumental focus,
a dragon wrestles with an angel.
The natives toast the hills
and never escape, although the rain
is exiled through an aqueduct
and what remains is marginal
in a land without a centre.
I introduce Taliesin, prophet of the Goddess,
who traverses a land of steep green knolls
of the skulls of thinkers grassed like Yawn
and he sings, until the dragon
has become a snake with wings,
a stone secreting fire.
The future's sealed by the sky
and the river arrives from nowhere,
so I tell it the names
of places it will pass through -
and Taliesin introduces Shelley
whose sheep-like carcass sails the aqueduct.
In time, the whole of Brum's affected -
writes ethereal poems to itself
to defy the competition judges,
as the spirit of solitude infects the mass.
Feared religiously by Her detractors,
the Bard's projection
strums the terrestrial harp-strings.
Drop Shelley's heart
in every reservoir.
The brown track crosses the plateau
to the frogstink waters of Llanwrtyd -
Prince and Princess Munster check in at Llangammarch,
incognito, two years from the War to End All Wars,
for a fix of barium chloride
and a taste of trout from the Irfon.
Water is piped to the Midlands
from the ruins of Shelley's cottage.
The smash of turnpike gates
resounds through Llywelyn's cave
so gently at Cilmery station.
The tracks are magnetic. They centre this landscape
and its whitewashed cottages with greased slate roofs
as imaginary kites approach the Pony Mountains
to the sound of brass bands burping from the brochures.
The space on either side becomes two reels -
we choose, or turn our eyes
from side to side, avoiding the eyes
of those who disturb our zazen.
Waiting for the up train,
there is time to pick a flower
or spot the first wasp of summer,
but no time to sniff the Stinking Well
with its concentration of sulphur,
magnesium, chalybeate and saline slime,
or to drink as a cure for scurvy,
take part in races
of man versus horse versus bike,
or snorkel through the mud.
As the train unzips the terrain,
its unnamed shades of green like frogskin
twitching with the rain are offered up
to the sunsky's galvanometer -
a kite flies over, clutching a parasol,
a foxflash hurrying names into places,
places into the optic nerve
that knows no places
only light and contour.
We are following the plumage
of the steam trains of the dead.
Tokens are taken from huts.
The semaphores keep waving,
unseen from the windows
of the Central Wales Extension Railway.
As bands play, bonfires
blaze beside the time-track.
We observe with eyes
that are churchyard pebbles.
The past is folded into the present
then the present is behind us, gathering moss
in the clammy reach of rain -
spilling peregrines, buzzards,
as clouds rise over the Sugar Loaf,
its pointed hat of a hill,
and a tunnel burrows through stone
to suggest a closing gate
as Cynghordy Viaduct yields
to the crow's reach of Bran Valley.
The train swoops lethargically down
to Llandovery and Llandeilo -
sheep give way to cows
and the greens get creamier.
The views will dawdle
all the way to the estuary
and the clanging sidings of Llanelli
where there's nothing left but mainline -
but the red kite's more of a totem than ever,
the invisible guard of a land
that need not exist to be.