A Poem by Robert Minhinnick

The Barns of Tonysguboriau

Talbot Green (Welsh: Tonysguboriau “lea of the barns”) is a town (and electoral ward) just north of the M4 motorway, in the County Borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales.

1.

I always wondered why I should

and why I should not visit?

A road sign for Tesco Extra.

The brutal tarmacadam leading on.

I saw children

in its barns, sliding down the hay

as I had done once in another place,

rubbing the hay dust from their eyes,

a vanished place exactly like

the Tonysguboriau of my small soul.

2.

Ah, darkness –

successive shelves of shadow.

Such darknesses

seemed to have more meaning then

when we were all

so much closer to the ground.

I remember the smells

that our own barn bore

–  its choking sweetnesses

of tractor oil and cut ragwort  –

but also, marvelously concealed,

a wren’s nest

woven out of last year’s leaves

and the green wrapper

of a chocolate triangle

in a box of Quality Street,

then braided with moss.

In infinite care.

3.

And I return

to our jostling ghosts

and an argument

about the best way to prick and blow

a wren’s egg, its dirty white

horizon, hot and stolen

and impossible to hold,

so delicate its shell.

Beware the wy clwc

we had been warned,

there was usually such a worthless one

in every clutch,

but collectors all,

our trespassing gang

who always sought the thrills

of stealth and secret theft.

And yes, it’s true,

I would be transfixed

– usually rigid with fright –

by the golden bubble

that grew enormously

whenever I stooped to kiss the shell.

4.

Later, I recall

another robber bringing in

a whole cabinet

with its smell of sour yolk,

handwritten names

and dates identifying

an enormous herring gull egg

still smeared with shit,

a dunnock’s turquoise pearl,

exquisite at first sight.

How we envied

such improbable success.

5.

Now, sixty years have somehow gone

but I can taste the clover in the hay,

thistle, knapweed, nettle, dock,

silverweed, pineappleweed,

grasses in their swathes

and the purple crowns

of devil’s bit scabious,

all a mown field’s

cornucopia underfoot

pitchforked into the scented reek

that always filled our barn,

and those friends disappearing  

like a smudge of bonfire smoke

yet reappearing, as some fires will,

even when I’m sure

the flame’s extinct.

*

    Wy clwc = addled egg

11.11. – 22.11.22


Robert Minhinnick is one of Wales’s and the UK’s foremost poets. He is the prize-winning author of essays, poetry, and fiction. He has also edited a book on the environment in Wales, written for television, and provided columns for The Western Mail and Planet. He is the co-founder of the environmental organisation Sustainable Wales, and was formerly the editor of Poetry Wales. Most recent books are his nonfiction essays Delirium (Seren Books), his novel Nia (Seren Books), and the poetry collection Diary of the Last Man (Carcanet) which was Wales Book of the Year, winner of the Roland Mathias Poetry Award, and shortlisted for the Forward Prize.