Growing Up

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Growing Up
in Brynmill

They drag the kids kicking and squealing
from childhood’s universe into an older
world of smoking and drinking, forbidden
fruits stolen after Christmas dinner when
drowsy grown-ups’ eyes are turned away.

Why do bigger boys follow smaller ones,
buying their sisters’ kisses then thrusting
their fingers into little girls’ knickers, or
invading Woolworth’s and tucking stolen
goods in shirts with their buttons undone?

The games they play: offering a little girl
a cigarette while two older boys wait
behind the garden wall with a wooden
dagger threatening the victim’s throat.

Dies Irae

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Dies irae

Nowhere has she found peace, save
in the dregs at the bottle’s bottom.
She solves life’s dilemmas with single
malt or grape’s blood fresh-plucked.

Doctors tell her that she must stop drinking,
not stoop to conquer yet another bottle.
The remedies they suggest will never suit her.
Family and friends lecture her in vain. 

She knows she will not live forever,
that one day a higher power will call.
So she opens another bottle of Scotch,
just a drop before she goes. She falls

to the floor, and lies asleep. Three still
born babies cover her with their love
to keep her warm. “Sleep well,” they say,
“you’ll find greater peace in eternity.”

Commentary: Another poem that was not easy to write. The last line is a tribute to Seamus Heaney and his poem, Yellow Bittern, the inspiration for this one. “You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.” In the literary theory of Intertextuality, texts talk to texts and a series of interlaced textual dialogs move across time and space. Hablo con mis ojos a los muertos, I speak through my eyes with the dead, as Francisco de Quevedo said in the 17th century. He was reading Seneca, another great writer born in Spain, when he wrote those words.
I restructured this poem three times. I began, following Seamus Heaney, with the first person singular [I]. Then I changed it to the second person singular [you], but you, in English, can never approximate to the intimacy of tu [versus vous] in French, or the multiplicity of [versus usted, vosotros, vosotras, ustedes} in Spanish. Finally I settled on the third person and settled on she [rather than he]. I guess when  a woman loses three children, she is entitled to lose herself in a bottle of Scotch and shut out the world.

Buried Alive

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Buried Alive
Anonymous we are,
never holding land or cattle,
lucky to own our own houses.Some castle
this rented row house
in a winding valley,
two rooms up
and two rooms down,

tin bath in the kitchen
filled with hot water
for when the shift ends.

After supper,
beer for a coal-dust throat,
then the wife, and sleep.

Next day,
a knock on the window,
a pulling on of clothes,
clogs clattering on cobbles,
a tin box sparse with food,
then down to the dark pit
of whatever mine has agreed,
at a price, to bury us alive.

Commentary: So much in this one. Very difficult to write. And a tribute to Rita McNeil’s It’s a working man I am,  two lines from the end. How long did it take me to write? Five minutes or less. Unless you count 200 years of coal mining (in South Wales alone), seventy-five years living and learning to write, and sundry workshops and exercises that have enabled me, just once in a while, to catch the butterfly as it flutters, although it never flies underground.

My Welsh Granny

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Poem for the Welsh grandmother
I never really knew

Six o’clock! The cuckoo whirrs its clockwork arrow
from the dark wood of its ambush and the flight
of my granny’s forgotten youth flashes before my eyes
to be buried among the trees. Cats! I can still count
her 1, 2, 3 cats, each one lapping milk from its saucer.

If I close my eyes, I can recall her house, her clothes,
her hair, the very bend of her body bowed over
the ironing board in the kitchen and everywhere,
the sweet and sour smell of white fish bubbling
on the stove for the cats’ supper. The cuckoo clock
strikes again. Each one wounds, the last one…?

Who knows what the last one will bring? Life’s
bitterest blows perhaps? Or missing memories
restored and with them, my granny’s own lost beauty,
with her standing upright, like some glorious flower
illuminated by a sunbeam in the wood’s dark depths.

International Day

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International Day
St. Mary’s Street

To be Welsh in Cardiff on International Day
is to be decked entirely in red from deep
between your ribs where the Red Dragon
throbs pumping its blood through the Arms
Park along with your heart and bright blood
surges as you wear your scarlet jersey like
a flag as you step onto the grass ready to play.

You shed your grey hairs like a sheep
sheds its coat on the Wenallt or Caerphilly
Mountain or the Brecon Beacons and Boyo,
you know you’re unbeatable. So come
the four corners of the world to Cardiff
with a rugby ball and they shall be defeated,
ground into the Arms Park mud, humiliated.

Flower-power

 

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Flower-power
or
Why should the young kids have all the fun?

So it’s children’s day at the local supermarket. As I push my shopping cart through the door, I see the face-painter with a young girl sitting before her, getting her face painted. Behind the willing victim, several young children wait, shuffling their feet in expectation. I go out to the car park, unload my cart, and push it back to the supermarket.
As I park my cart, I see that the line-up has disappeared and the face-painter sits alone, cleaning her brushes. I walk up to her table and ask “How much?”
“It’s free,” she tells me. “It’s children’s day.”
“Will you paint my face?” I ask her.
“You’re not a child,” she looks at me in astonishment.
“No, I’m not,” I reply, “but I’m in my second childhood.”
I pull out the chair and sit down.
“I’ve got some photos on my phone, or I can try and paint whatever you would like. Would you like to see some pictures?”
“No, thanks. Just  look at me and paint what you think I would like.”
“What are your favorite colors?” she looks at me and smiles.
“I don’t have any favorite colors, but I always avoid green, yellow, and gold.”
“Oh, well, how about a nice flower?”
“Great!” I say.
One of the trolley boys who return the shopping carts in great convoys walked by.
“You need a mirror,” he says, “so people can see themselves.”
“Great idea, stay here, I’ll go and get one.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a mirror in the car. I’ll have a look when I get there. Meanwhile, it’s a surprise. I’ll put a photo up on my blog when I get home.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”

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I gave her my blog address and I kept my promise. Unlike many people I know, I usually do.

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Commentary: with many thanks to Emily, the face-painter, who treated my second-childhood with humor and dignity. As I said to her at the time, ‘why should the young kids have all the fun?”

 

Dewi Sant

 

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Dewi Sant
Cathays

 To be Welsh in Cardiff on St. David’s Day
is to walk the dogs through Blackweir Gardens
and to nod with the daffodils as they step
their stately minuet under the trees.

Wet paths wander through rain‑speckled woods
and the fish are born blind in the gardens’ stream
on account of the coal that drifts its black silt
like fine, powdered night‑time down from Taffs Well.

Under their umbrellas, the fishermen dream
of sewin and perch; the bubbling waters
swirl faster today because of the rain that fell
last night in the Rhondda where a word‑storm

brought closure of pit after pit and each loss
cut colder than a volley of hail as King Coal
tumbled from his mining‑valley throne.

Yet still the daffodils sway, the fish are born blind,
and the Taff’s black waters swirl restlessly on
past unemployed fishermen to Severn and sea.