Scintilla 2

Scintilla-02-cvr

Table of contents

 

Author Title #
M. Wynn Thomas In Occidentem & tenebras’: putting Henry Vaughan on the map of Wales 7
Menna Elfyn Eira/Snow 26, 27
Gwynt/Wind 28, 29
Twll y glaw/Cloudburst 30, 31
Clare Crossman Nature Writing 32
Hilary Llewellyn-Williams A Lap of Apples 34
A. M. Allchin ‘As if Existence Itself were Heavenliness’: The Proximity of Paradise in Henry Vaughan and Thomas Merton 36
Pauline Stainer Parable Island 54
George Herbert plays the lute 55
Greg Hill A Thracian Triptych 56
John Jones Uscavar’s Boy 58
Death in the Distance 60
Topher Mills The Believer’s Somnal 61
Roland Mathias The Silurist Re-Examined 62
Ruth Bidgood Encounters with Angels 78
Peter Gruffydd Church at Pistyll, Llyn 84
The Cleric and The Visitor 85
The Voice 86
Dannie Abse Inscription on the Flyleaf of a Bible 88
Robert Wilcher Henry Vaughan and the Church 90
Joseph Clancy A Visit to Powis Castle 105
Wendy Mulford 1. Annaghmakerring, Easter 1997 108
2. Different lines 109
3. Border blues 110
4. Reconciliation 112
Stevie Davies The Testament of Catherine Vaughan 113
David Annwn Vaughan’s Loom 120
Malcolm Bradley Seeing Voices 124
Don Rodgers Burry Holm 126
The Fictionalists 127
Jonathan Nauman To my Worthy Friend, Master T. Lewes’: Vaughan, Herbert, and the Civil Wars 128
Rose Flint Weights and Measures 132
Myra Schneider Pool 134
Robert Minhinnick In the Days of the Comet 135
Richard Poole Burning 139
Jeremy Hooker Quickness 141
Lee Grandjean The Background to the ‘Four Winds’: Drawings 154
Jeremy Hooker A Note on the ‘Groundwork’ poems 156
Workpoints 158
Cyane 166
Steve Griffiths Dipping Through Surfaces 169
John Freeman Spring Diptych 173

( Drawings by Lee Grandjean from GROUNDWORK appear on pages 25, 83, 119, 153, 168 and a detail from ‘Four Winds: Study’, 1997 on the cover. )

Exerpt

The Testament of Catherine Vaughan

BY STEVIE DAVIES

S2-img1

Lee Grandjean “Four Winds I” drawing 1997.
8″ x 10″. Compressed charcoal on paper

(Henry Vaughan and his first wife, Catherine Wise, had four children: Thomas,
Lucy, Frances and Catherine, all of whom were under ten at her death in the
early 1650s. Taking advantage of the suspended law against marrying one’s
deceased wife’s sister, Vaughan espoused Catherine’s younger sister, Elizabeth,
who brought him by 1661 a symmetrical brood: Grisell, Lucy, Rachel and
Henry. Conflict between the two families issued in rancorous law-suits in the
1680s, the poet’s cession of the family home to his enraged elder son Thomas,
and his repudiation of his disabled daughter Catherine’s suit for maintenance
in the 1690s. What follows is an imaginary account of the experience of
Catherine, set in 1659).

Lucy and I steal peeps at our stepmother-aunt’s belly. Fish leap in those unquiet
depths while she sighs and shifts her weight. We snigger, my elbow ploughing
Lucy’s ribs. What is in there? Another of me? Her weary face is a thin, far-away
shimmer in the light from the leaded pane; there are soldiers again, she says,
soldiers on the Brecon road. I shrink from this mirror of my mother, more
wincingly than from any rumoured militia, in a house of so many mirrorings.
‘Your father had a dream last night … Don’t you want to know what it was
about?’
We gape, mute mysteries to her; waifs; wraiths of her elder sister Catherine,
who in our father’s feather bed bore us and died, in blood and unatoning pain.
I saw a darling face waxen on the pillow like an effigy but it was not my mother.
Her wings beat in the trees till dark.
‘Fair and young light,’ my father addressed that darkness.
Stepmother-aunt’s girls are our sister-cousins. Our brother Thomas found
out something. He whispered first to us. He was being nasty. Heads together, we
all dug our hands into the pot of sticky nastiness and sucked the sweetness off.
It’s against the law to marry your deceased wife’s sister, he read it in the Prayer
Book, it’s incest, it’s … fornication, he said. We squirmed and tittered. One
evening it burst out from him. You are a trespasser, you, he said to my father,
who turned pale, whose mouth twisted. You broke the law, hot red To m
persisted. No, oh no, said my father, the law was suspended, see. And, he seemed
to plead, and the tears came, it was the nearest I could get to Catherine. He
didn’t mean me: he meant my mother Catherine.
There is a complexity, said my father. There is a law within.
I saw how he (the bright word-gatherer) struggled for words. His hand
covered his own breast as I have seen my mother’s and stepmother’s on their
bellies great with child. The law-within I imagined as a bird or butterfly in his
ribcage.
The Spirit has its own truth, he added.
When George Fox the Quaker came to Brecon, and stood on a barrel to speak
of the Inner Light, the magistrates got the people to shout him down in gales
of Welsh. ‘Shout again!’ cried Mr Jenkins. ‘Sing up, boys, roar again!’ And for
two solid hours they blared. Hooted all night long outside the inn under the
window of the witch, with his pale, amazing eyes. The apprentices shouted.
The butcher shouted and waved his cleaver. Tom shouted. My father stood still
and was silent.
The Spirit has its own truth. Listen to the silence, said George Fox, my
father’s enemy. My father’s mirror opposite.
Walking the hills by night, my father expects some great visitor. His thoughts
tangle in the boughs of the oak in our courtyard, as he peers for signs of a final
fire. You should see him in the meadow with our sheep. He is amazingly loving
to sheep. Also stones and all small plants. If you tiptoe up when he is talking to
a bird under the eave, he can fondle your hair then and call you pattering girl.
Poets are aloof tall men with craggy faces; they gaze at the far hills and trip
over doorsteps. Where they walk, the air is hazy and glittering.
When he comes in at dawn, his bare feet are wet with dew.
‘Oh well, if you don’t want to know .. . ‘, Aunt-mother flounces. ‘I suppose
you are too young to know how great a poet your father is.’
‘What then’ What did he dream?’
‘Oh! Where’s Lucy?’
She looks round distraught.
‘I’m here,’ says Lucy.
‘No – I mean my Lucy. I told you to keep an eye … she’ll be in the dairy
again, and one day through your carelessness she’ll drown in the milk, she will.’
Lugs herself up; shambles out, calling, ‘Lucy!’
‘Yes, auntie,’ answers my Lucy.
‘I don’t mean you, impertinent,’ she shrieks. ‘And stop calling me auntie, I’m
your mother.’

We hope the Lucy-Pretender does drown in the milk tub. How can there be
two Lucies in one house? With all those names to choose from … Lucy and I
am full of bale and bile against that other Lucy and we hope she falls in, or off,
or out of something, we shan’t lick her clean.
A spiralling scream. Lucy the Second is hauled off a fleece where she’s
snuggled. She’s brought in flailing and I and Lucy am instructed to hold her.
‘Drop her,’ I whisper. ‘Go on.’
I was dropped when I was a baby sucking my mother’s nipple, I was dropped
into the fire, I was damaged, I was dropped.
But the Lucy-Baby leeches on to Lucy and smiles into her face; and Lucy
grins back, she can’t help it.
Our father says it was his sin that tumbled me off mother’s lap, his sin that
made God kill Uncle William, his sin that … he tots up crimes and sentences,
needing to be the biggest sinner of us all … he angles shocked looks at my
crookedness, flinching back, as if I were a sign.
But Uncle Thomas is coming … my Uncle Thomas, the paunchy, the
booming, the quarrel-picker, big at eating and drinking. Our ears clang with
the rumpus of hooves in the courtyard and the racket of his voice, ‘The House
of Light. Lovely Lucies everywhere. Good evening, Scintillations!’

Everyone has a double, so they say, and so I can see when I look round the
table, where we’re eating mutton. Everyone has a double so where’s mine?
I was dropped.
‘So how’s my lamb?’ asks Uncle Thomas, turning to me with his face that is
my father’s face but fleshier and jollier and less holy.
‘Can’t you cut it, lamb? Let Uncle cut it for you.’
He saws my helping; feeds me mouthfuls.
‘No, I can – look, I can do it.’ I grasp the fork with the stump of my right
hand, burnt when I was dropped (she nodded off in the heat of the fire, I
pitched straight into the hearth and my tender hand roasted and spat like meat,
my brother remembers it).
‘Don’t help her, she can manage for herself, don’t pamper,’ Aunt-mother
chides. ‘You’ll make her dependent, she’s a bad rebellious girl.’
‘Well well,’ says Uncle, and carries on placing morsels on my tongue.
He winks, a left-over like me. Auntie Rebecca’s gone where my mother’s gone,
where our Uncle William went, and Grandad. Where’s that?
Into the world of light, my father said, in his misty way.
I begin to drowse, tucked in under Uncle Thomas’ arm, though my eyes are
open and I see through a veil the puzzle of faces echoing.

‘The legitimacy of mutton . . ., ‘ says my father.
‘Dear oh dear,’ says Mr Powell. ‘God gives the creatures to our use.’
‘No indeed,’ spark up my father and my uncle in unison; and in their heresy
they are of one accord, twin faces mirroring one another precisely. .’For God is
in the creatures … and at the end of time that very mutton you are eating
now will be lamb again, pasturing with its mother beneath the tree.’
A shouted ho ho, but they are not joking. They take their food seriously.
‘The two of you are no better than Ranters and Anabaptists,’ says Mr Powell.
‘I do assure you, sir,’ says my father and my uncle, who are one person, and I
am that person too, and I know as my mind swims that the lamb will be born
again from me. What I have eaten (which has become myself, flesh of my flesh)
will be recreated as lamb. The lamb will find its mother again, she will. If this
were not so .. . it would be unbearable. ‘I do assure you, our opinion has not
only scriptural but scientific authority.’
And Catherine will find Catherine.I drop asleep.

Wild thumpings of the table split my thumb-sucking doze. Uncle and Father
are in dispute.
Thomas, Lucy, Frances and I huddle in shadow under the hall bench. When
Uncle’s thunderbolts of swear-words come, Tom catches them on his fascinated
tongue, for future use.
Father holds down his temper, with saintly self-restraint. This annoys Uncle.
He has done that experiment, he says, he should know. He and Rebecca did that
experiment at Pinner, he’s still got the eye-lotion under the bed at their lodgings,
what further proof do you want? ‘Your wife was there, man, she was helping.’
Silence; then our stepmother storms out crying, ‘Catherine, always Catherine.’
My grandmother raises her voice, she caws raw and grating.
‘What do you know about alchemical secrets, hold your tongue, woman.’
The rooks outside feud bitterly in the trees.
When they come out, they have not yet made it up. They look like mirrors
defying their duty to reflect.
‘Now, boys, boys,’ witters my gran.
‘We are not boys but grown men,’ announces Uncle, as if this will come as a
surprise to all. ‘And just because Henry is the elder by a mere hour … ‘
‘Forty-seven minutes,’ corrects my gran.
‘Half an hour, and has inherited . . .d oes not give you a monopoly on the
light . . . parochial .. . provincial . .. rural nobody .. . my cousin Aubrey
always says … From me, it’s from me, you get all your secrets.
‘Yes,’ my father concedes. ‘I … do know.’
I see how he needs Uncle; yearns to him as I need my mother, homing to
reflections. Even my mother I don’t think he loved as much until she was dead
and translated into light. Starry Catherine in the firmament is easier to love
than any fleshly woman. Uneasily he knows that too, mired in his clay.
‘Oh you muddy girl!’ cries our stepmother. ‘What have you been doing?’
‘Rooting,’ I say, and begin to rustle.
‘I wonder about your mind, I really do.’
‘My mother is a tree,’ I reveal, and they all scare.

In two days’ time, Grisell and Other-Lucy have a new sister, Rachel, not the
longed-son. Tom snorts at the load of no-good girls.
‘Uncle Thomas, Uncle Thomas, come and see my mother.’
Up the slopes of Allc-yr-Esgair behind our house we scramble. I haul him fulltilt,
green-edged thoughts beguiling me to call to the birds in my twin tongues.
Uncle steps lightly for such a chubby man, dainty in his London·boots over the
mossy roots and leaf-mould.
‘I do not wish to disturb the Spirit of the Place,’ he explains.
‘Oh! A dryad!’ I spin round. ‘Too late, you’ve missed her!’
I ride though the glades on the high horse of Uncle’s shoulders, through
soughing waves of light and shadow.
Birds nestle in my mother’s arms, mosses coat her roots with velvet. She must
reach underground fathoms deep. Slender and call, she grows straight up to
foam in a high tide of leaves syllabling in the wind on the quietest day.
I hug her often and lay my cheek against her bark.
‘You see, she didn’t die. She only changed.’
‘Glory, no. There’s no such thing as dying. Every child knows that. And does
she talk to you?’
‘Oh yes. Secret things.’
‘I’d rather hear that beech speak,’ he said, ‘than the sweetest flute in London.’
‘Why go back then?’ I urge. ‘Stay here, with us.’
‘Oh but I’ve the elixir to make. The world must be taught. Beehive-brain they
may call me but I muse discharge my Truth upon them.’ He bunches his hands
into fists. And I see he fidgets to get back to the quarrelsome capital.
An oval stone lies in my palm, worn egg-smooth and skinned with a powder
of green lichen. Sun and shadow dapple the egg-stone on my lap, sitting there
on the rotting log beside my uncle who rarely laughs at me. First cousin twice
removed, he says, to the philosopher’s stone and do I know it’s magnetic? God
is in the stone. If I coddle it, brood upon it, it may possibly hatch? Together, we
listen in to the stone’s silence, in the swaying shadow of my mother’s boughs. I
translate its meaning into streams of bubbling words, Welsh and English, and
Uncle praises me as an educator and a natural poet. All children are, he muses,
girl-child as well as boy, in that great hermaphrodite, the universe.
‘My Rebecca was like me. You … are not unlike your father.’
I sit bolt upright like an exclamation mark.
My heartstring ties me tensely to my father as he mounts the sunset hill behind
Newton and, when he draws away, the lifeline between him and me twitches on
its root in my ribcage. With many small pangs, I creep the forbidden path in his
beloved footsteps, stretching my stride to match his. My eyebeam latches on to
him and will not, cannot, let him go, though he keeps disappearing into bushy
shadows. I am hauled home to him like a fish spasming on a line.
Past the riddle-stones he clambers, through the bleat of late lambs, an insect
hum, din of birds and the river-chuckle.
‘I cannot reach it …,’ the breeze tosses the phrase back over his shoulder
for me to catch.
I want to be in my father as he yearns aloud to be in his Father: ‘Something
I had, which long ago … Did learn to suck, and sip, and taste …’ .I s he crying?
He mourns that he is a cast-off from God’s lap, unequal to the humble fly
or the sensitive primrose. I scurry like a spy in his suffering wake, and as he
runs to Father, I home to father.
I hunker behind a rock, shredding seeds from a rusty head of dock.S inking
now to his k nees, he scans the damp, lush grass as if he’d dropped something
by the wayside. He spots … some little creature, snail or worm or sunsetgilded
frog; stoops. The heartstring yanks me with quivering sharpness. As he
raises his hand to bless the creature, I rush stumbling in under his palm and
snatch a share of the blessing.
He winces back, and says, not without kindness, ‘Go down now, child. It’s
your bed-time.’
‘You magneted me. I had to come.’
‘No, you must go down. Home to mother. This is private business – God’s
business.’
I am a little dark thing he’s fathered, like a sin, crooked and bereft; not even
an important mistake. I finger the secret stone in my pocket as I am gently
ordered off. Milky light curdles and the hillside judders as he pats my retreating
back, to help me on my way.
With all my force, in a riot of grief, I round on him and hurl the stone, and
miss.

 

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