Philip: Between 2005 and 2007, I lived on the banks of the Taff at Quakers Yard, and I still have a whole notebook of traces from that close (sometimes too close) encounter. Several poems grew out of it, including this, which won the Scintilla Long Poem Competition in 2009.

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Praise Song for the Taff

Start
by mistrusting the beauty
of this hillside,
smoother than it should be,
green as a hospital sheet,

stretched up tight to his jutting stony chin,

the laid-out giant,
grand old bugger—
half ogre, half rough-you-up-
and-make-a-man-of-you
tough uncle. Don’t let them trim quite all

the stubble, not quite sluice away

the phlegm
stained black.
Find someone, if
there’s anyone, to belt out
something rousing for him

as he belted all and sundry in his day.


And then
mistrust the river,
its apparent clarities.

The fish have come back
alive-alive-O with tidings
that something has died.

And a kingfisher,
welding-torch blue.

The water, though, twinkles
with forgetfulness
of how the coal dust flowed

rimming the stone-beach
and the flood marks under bridges

right down to the bay, the swish
of its shitty and muscular tail
for miles into the Bristol Channel.


Mistrust the sigh
of emptiness. The quiet.
The unbroached skyline. Because anytime now

there’ll be the buzz-saw snarl of petty biking,
their scars on the hillside. Here’s a posse, shiftily
of several ages, round a torched tree stump

on the waste ground which is also
beautiful,

with gorse and slim tentative birch trunks
and fat blackberries
by the Do Not Cross The Railway sign,

with its Danger of Death, a well-
worn path up to and from it either side.


And last,
mistrust mistrust,
the need to be unfooled, uncompromised

as if any water you could drink
was pure and might not rise

against us, against toppled boughs
dammed under bridges, and its own back-swelling.

Nowhere anyone can stand is high and dry.

Mistrust all that, and yourself, and now,
consider
just the possibility

of praise.

Philip Gross