Click here to play the song – Milwaukee 2014-1 by Bert Biscoe, 2014 as performed by Bert at the 17th Gathering of Cornish Cousins in the USA in August, 2014. Below is the two-handed poem which Bert performed with Ben Luxon at the event.
Mr Luxon and Mr Biscoe meet by chance on a Milwaukee Street
- Mornin! You look pale! Come far?
- Landed yesterday! Say! Do you know these parts?
- Why the prairie is the back of my hand!
The creek is my vein, the town is my heart,
The mountain’s my love, the mine – Ah! The mine!
All the knowledge I know and try hard
To leave wherever I may, someplace behind,
All down there, way down in the….mine!
- So, you may be the man
The one I need to know
The one who will, if he can,
Guide me to the show!
I’ve slept above the ocean,
Walked along moving ground,
Moved faster’n natural motion,
Tested the speed of sound –
I’ve fallen from the sky
And lost myself in town,
To speak my word, though shy,
To tie sweet longing down –
- Ah! So you’re in for the Gathering! Here, beside the water!
Is there dust on your heels from Kernow?
- There is no dust in Kernow! She’s all spick and span!
She’s full of units and real estate and ribbons of road from gate to gate,
She’s bought and sold like meat in the store –
There’s bodies that lay day after day all along the car-parked shore,
There to roast tender skin, to turn from pale servants of God
To serve deities of indulgence within – there are no Celts
To stand and shake a spear, or curses dear at dervish hordes of Viking,
Or to clasp the trading hands of Beaker Boys come for tin to exchange
For cups and jugs of fired clay – the voice of Gwithian’s blessing
Rasps its age along the wire, fear invests its prayer
Where once the past formed perfect paragraphs to raise
Ill-formed hearts beyond the beat of their everyday – to understand
- Bad news from home then?
- Oh no, no, no! Just the whirligig of Time
About its laundry business – Monday, you know,
Always the day for sheets upon the line –
The Sabbath brimmed and hymn’d:
With luck! A revival shout to frighten rooks away!
No! Indeed, all is well – a little crowded,
And less going on in the fields
Than is good for a world on its knees
As winds of change unfreeze the Poles,
And Sahara reaches out for Spain.
- Would it help, my friend, if I let you know
From the little I have gleaned
Of how we came to be here? No! No!
I’ve all the time in the world – You see!
Some time ago, some lost potato night,
As bellies wept to find their hearts
Blackened, bitter, and gripped by blight –
With Dukes and Stewards raising rent,
Adventurers double-bent with fear
Of loss-upon-loss and ruin’s writ
Tied to the garden gate – we held a shade
Of steady hand to dream-caked eyes
To gaze over water, beyond the fulmar’s flight,
Beyond the farthest navigations
Of brown-sailed luggers in search of grounds,
Masters-we of lode and stope
And forever, with God’s calloused hand
Upon the tiller of each one’s ship of hope,
We went to dig – how can I convey
The wrench of string about a Cornish heart
As deep-shone boots on harbour step
Flecked sparks of joy to light departure’s night?
We looked down upon sea-legged granite chafed
By centuries, at moorland’s belly, farewell-worn!
O we are names on manifests,
Photogravures on pinewood walls,
We are voices caught in memory’s vault,
And initials scratched in choir stalls –
The headland, the stones, the chapel door –
Each is a chip in each heart’s slate slab,
Each a spike in horizon’s curve, and each
The prick of homeland needle’s fatal stab –
- So, you miss it then?
Even though you’ve never breathed
The salt air, the frost-bit heather not filled
Your head with smells more sweet than love –
And all the names on lichen stones
Hither and thither pitched and leaned
In the shadow of Saint This or That’s
Grey granite walls and Gospel windows –
The grass grows high in burial yards,
Their gates creak and twist on thin-worn hinge,
The lych-stone sports a coat of moss
And priests spill wine, break bread and preach
To sparse pews of scanty psalms –
The voices rarely sound the plough
Or echo whispers of free-farmed land:
The eyes along the broke-gate lane
Swoon at idylls, and find semblance of God
In views from brass-plate benches –
We sat last week above Golant, the Fowey,
River of battle and trade, of Rashleighs,
Bodrugans – Quiller-Couch, du Maurier,
Of Tristan, Iseult and Consols, of clay and trains –
The river’s quiet astounds the dead, Sampson,
The long-chinned dolorous Saint, may not shout
From his panel there in pulpit wall,
Yet his pain is trapped in postcards,
Prisoned in hasty pamphlets not made
To foster will for breaking chains
But rather for wishes, for greetings
To flit, dragonflies over stagnant ponds –
The lifeblood turned from persecution,
Landlords’ clenched and blood-stained knock,
The priest demanded subjection, an oath,
Which farmer, mason – all with business to do
With God within the junction of questioned hearts –
Now gone, and sweet soils wash in rivers brown
With aftermath of industrial rain, earth silts ports
And strips the field, prepares the day
When none but rat and spider rule again –
Such might a hopeless spirit describe our land!
- Sounds a great place for the holiday of a lifetime!
Last time I was there
Cadgwith rang with song,
The old language could be heard again,
The Obby Oss welcomed Spring,
The Furry wrapped Helston up in knots,
Wrasslers grunt in backs and hold,
The pasty opens stomach doors to eternity,
Splits and cream and china cups
Spell sermons out on poets’ hands,
Trevithick, Golowan, Causley, Murdoch,
Lafrowda, Stithians, Wadebridge, Camelford,
St Buryan – Man! Even Camborne’s got a Show!
And all the World comes to view
The houses of ancient engines, calciners
And railroads – the heritage of lodes,
And knockers, spriggans, fairies, ghosts –
And saints, martyrs, explorers, gardeners –
Wonder and truth slither between coarses
In every thorn-capped hedge – we don’t want
Melancholy and stoical perseverance,
Grey granite humour and St Issey missions –
If we’re coming home – Man, we want a good time!
- Sure! Sure! I get your drift.
Your nail has struck my beam!
We’ll get out the flags and prime the band!
We’ll heave on more coal for more steam!
But, my Friend, I wonder if you could assist.
I just got into town yesterday,
And I’m lost in Mil-wau-kee –
I wonder if you could direct us
To some place in this great town,
This land of the Free, where we
Could get a decent cup of tea!
 A = Mr Luxon
B = Mr Biscoe