Menna Elfyn


(I heard how the scent of the tree filled Baghdad during the Gulf War, its oil being used to cook with in the absence of electricity.)

Before I saw it in Lisboa
it was only a name to me —
the best medicine for a cold,
a pretend sweet 
to free the chest
of chirping.

But today, those petals are banners:
they give the same 
festival to everyone —
genial trees, that favour
no one people or land.

Warmth rises from their roots —
oil lighting the world,
grease in a bowl
and a family fed.

The golden eucalyptus
spluttered, and did not fail.
Though all round hell exploded
it still compassed food,
creating a table of blessedness.

And isn’t it for this we go on living
from ready meal to love-feast —
rhythms of water to our throat,
metres of nourishment on each lip?

Drops that once were released 
as a kindly fate
for the unfortunate,
spread their odour —
richer in the giving,
and in every share of it, giving enough.

In a night cold as a corpse
it’s the eucalyptus
that they smell, those hide-outs
and gathered fellowships
amid rape and rubble.

The simple oil
once kept me breathing,
now over blackened lives
shines like light.

— translated from the Welsh by Tony Conran