THE WRITING SHED
“A poet is a poet for such a very tiny bit of his life; for the rest
he is a human being…”
It’s all before me. At one shoulder, the ruined castle with its gnawed edges looms up alongside. The dark mass of Sir John’s Hill rises up on the other, leaving the ‘Strangest Town in Wales’ at my back. But ahead, my gaze skims the flat grassland of the marsh and over the waters of the estuary, all the way to the Llanstephan promontory and out into Carmarthen Bay.
A great boom somersaults across the water from the M.O.D range around the headland. It startles me but doesn’t cause a single bird to leave the rich pickings of the shore. I stand on the squat, stone bridge and look down the narrow Corran, to where its mouth eventually opens to greet both its fellow river, the Taf and also the Sea. Two small craft lean exhausted against a bank. The sea will eventually conspire with the rivers in floating them. I look back the other way, up stream, beyond where the access road bows to make a ford. The Corran is swollen with the month’s rain, surging over the smoothed stones in its progress, in tongues of swift, clear motion.
I turn and start walking along the path beneath the castle walls. Before me the great tract of Laugharne Marsh stretches out alongside the Strand as far as Sir John’s Hill, that huge bolster of dense woodland neatly marking one border of the town. Since I was here last it’s acquired two mobile phone masts on its brow.
I look back at the wind and tide beaten grasses. They are scarred; channels have been carved in them by the water seeking whatever ways it can to get to or from the estuary. The sward shivers in today’s breeze. Triangles of mast spring from its midst, the bellies of the boats hidden. In other places the wounds inflicted look fresh. The wet, sun-slapped mud props up the carcass of an old crabber.
There are birds everywhere but I know the names of so few. I recognise the jackdaws that strut around on the margins, tutting sharply yet paying little attention to me. I can feel their kinship with the ruined castle but I don’t equate them with the sea. There’s already a flock here and more are gliding in… slow, black arrowheads dropping out of the sky.
The marsh follows the path until it gradually transforms into furrowed mudflats down one side. The old castle still dominates on the other. I remember being told how the building had gone through a variety of renovations across the ages, from simple Norman enclosure to Civil War fortress. For all the portions of its ruin it still maintains a solid posture, a deliberate affront to the vast expanse of the Taf, which widens here as it goes off to challenge the sea. The battlements are well defined against the sky, I can feel the unyieldingness of the round tower yet… the building is really a battered shell. The base of the cannonball blasted walls is cradled by a thick bank of willow branches enmeshed themselves in brambles, the whole buttress rising up out of the marsh plain. The path just dances on before all this.
The first acknowledgements of Ditch are two rough wooden benches looking longingly out to sea and set in a cuticle of tended grass alongside the path. The back of one has been broken off; no doubt by spoiling, bragging vandals and now it’s propped up behind the other. The designs are obviously intended to suggest the ripple of fish or undulations of seaweed. Each is inscribed with an equally flowing quotation;
‘On my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks’.
And on the broken one; ‘Over Sir John’s hill, the hawk on fire hangs still.’
A little farther on, set into the castle ramparts, is the gazebo. They say it was fashioned in the nineteenth century from the base of a tower otherwise destroyed in the Civil War. With its round hat of dark tiles and its small, square panes of glass it reminds me of a high tollhouse that’s been wedged into the stone fortifications. I can see Ditch sat up there, the fag end of the nineteen-thirties, a guest of the owners, trying to write his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog… that still vaguely angelic face doing more looking out than looking down.
I carry along the path until I come to a wooden shelter erected as part of what’s described here as the Laugharne Youth Challenge. As a tribute to Ditch it presents passages from ‘Under Milk Wood’ on its surround.
‘Thou Shalt Not on the wall and the yellowing dickybird-watching pictures of the dead...’
I notice the decapitated wooden seagull on the roof. There are sections of rope thick as a palm and brute lengths of anchor chain by way of props.
‘Dylan Marlais Thomas born 27/10/1914 died 9/11/1953’
I take out the pen and notebook from the pocket of my work fleece. I imagine I can feel the weight of her letter even though I know it’s only translucent airmail paper hiding perfectly inside the back cover.
I sit down. I open the notebook from the front and turn past the first couple of pages of futile apology and stupid, stolen lies and angry regret.
‘We passed each other in the hall …’ I write on the new sheet, on the bruised back of the previous entry.
I want to stay exactly where I am, almost as much as I want to hurry on to the Boathouse. I could easily remain to be lulled by the sea, its currents carefully fumbling with those of the river. It’s hard to bear all this as just a glimpse of what life could have been. This clandestine day is cracking the crust on my heart.
The Town Hall bell rings out the hour – Eleven o’clock. Isn’t that opening time in Wales these days? I’m starting to wonder what happened to that honeymoon of just two hours ago, when sunlight suddenly washes over me as it forces its way through the margins in the clouds. It makes a prism at the point of pen and paper. I find it hard not to read significance into this. I look out into the estuary, where the dazzling, narrow beam has already wriggled its way across the water before it reached me.
‘Where you looked out, across this just kissed, glistening mouth …’ I scribble.
On the horizon, the dunes of the Laugharne Burrows are now like a mirage; I can just make out the latticed towers on the firing range. The tide is still going out. Orange orbs of buoys are becalmed on their islands of sand. The fluid estuary is bristling at the sun on its back.
I can hear water draining out of the side of the hill and its hollow gurgling sounds to me like beer being poured into a half-filled glass. It would. I get up and start walking again on along the path. There are large puddles left by the tide reclining there on the trail, the other world within them bending to fit around the ripples of the breeze. I’m all too well aware of my lack of wisdom. It’s what I beat myself over the head with every day, on my way to work. But now I can see what such naivety allows. The wonder of it all pours through me.
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