Swansea Bay

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 Swansea Bay

            My childhood in Swansea: a mixture of seaside and sand. Walking over the bridge at the Slip to reach the dunes at high tide, the fish nets at low tide, the dog ever before me, running fancy-free, chasing yellow-beaked gulls that swoop low, mewl, and lead him on and on, past bundles of bathers’ clothes in summer, and the dog lifting his hind leg, visiting each pile, marking them, one by one, a squirt at a time, and us denying we know the dog, not ours, we say, then beg for the empty pop bottles, taking them back to the vendors, pocketing the cash back on the bottles until we have enough for an ice-cream, a grown-up wafer, not a childish cornet, or a go on the swing boats, and the dog comes with us, gets sea-sick, air-sick, hangs his head over the wooden sides drooling thick saliva as we wait for the bump and grind of the wooden bar that will slow us down in spite of us pulling on the ropes, harder and harder, until we swing higher and higher into the heavens, and the sands dwindle into nothing, and the dog throws up, and the man who handles the swing boats calls us bad names, as we run away, across the sands, ‘I’ll tell your dad,’ he shouts after us, but he never does, and the dog wanders loose across the sands to drink salt water and throw up again, and yes, I remember the starfish, their golden triangles winking wet in the sunlight as they hang from their netted firmaments, and we walk out along the concrete sewer pipes that pour the town’s waste, the town, and not the city, never for me a city, and how could it be a city when so many uncles and aunts lived on Town Hill and my father worked in Town Hall, and Swansea Town were the Swans, and they played soccer on the Vetch Field, the old hanging ground for the town jail, never the city jail, and the Mumbles Railway ran its electric trams out from Swansea Docks to the quarries by the Mumbles Pier, and we took that train, sat on the top deck, The Slip, Singleton Park, Blackpill, the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, where last year, after a hundred years of absence, wild oysters finally returned, the pollution from Copperopolis, the largest copper mining and smelting town in the world, finally drained from Swansea Bay and the waters now clean enough to keep those oysters alive in their cultured oysters beds at Oystermouth, on Swansea Sands, below Oystermouth Castle with its ruined walls where we went once, but I remember nothing about it, nor Swansea Castle, in the old town centre by Castle Street, its ruined walls banned with their Keep Out signs and Danger, but the warnings themselves enough to invite us in, except we knew we’d be beaten if anything happened and we were caught and everyone knew everyone in Swansea Town then,  and somebody would surely bear the tale to our parents or grandparents,  but that’s enough of that, and its’ out of the tram and across the wooden planks of the Mumbles Pier, out to the end where the old men throw their lines into the sea and sit and wait and hope, pulling on cigarettes, Players Nay Cut for preference, as they watch swirling waters, taking sips, like old men everywhere, from secret bottles in brown paper bags that cause them to wipe their lips with the back of theirs hands and cough with pleasure, waiting for God knows what to come along and tickle the end of their line, and out there, at the end of the world, the lifeboat house with its slipway and the lifeboat, launched only in the roughest weather when the tall ships founder or the small boats are blown away, out into the sea, that twinkles now with its wrinkled old man’s face as it moves back and forth beneath wind and sun, and everyone is smiling in the summer warmth, though it’s cold where the wind blows off the sea, and it’s into the corners away from the wind, or into the pavilion where the arcade games wait for our money, and it’s ‘please, please, one more go’, as the small metal arms armed with their claws, clutch at toys and dolls, and furry animals, and the fighter planes come swooping down in their practice arcs and yes, I am a gunner again, fighting my Battle of Britain in a spinning turret with a mobile gun-sight, and time and my money run out and it’s ‘ please, please, one more go’, and my head is spinning, as the turret is spinning, and the world is spinning on its axis as memory’s spider spins its web of illusion, delusion, and time rolls backward on the station clock, as the tram rolls up and we track our tired way back home, past Oystermouth, West Cross, Blackpill with its little Roman Bridge, Singleton Park, the Recreation Ground, St. Helen’s, to the Slip, where we boarded in he first place, and home we go via the fish-and-chip shop in the road at the bottom of our street, and all adventures end as we open the front door, calling out ‘we’re home’, and the smell of warm salt and vinegar soaks through the newspaper binding the delicacies we have brought to placate the gods who wait in silence for our return.

Cows

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Cows

Underneath the bungalow, we find a secret space so small that only the young ones can crawl there. We go after coins that drop through the floorboards of the verandah and we hide there, in that cool, dark grave space, when we wish to be neither seen nor heard. At the far end of the bungalow, in a larger space beneath the floor, Nana has her refrigerator. This space, similar to ours, is where she keeps the thick cream off the bottled milk when she wishes to turn it into Devon Clotted. Here, too she places the jellies when she wants them to set. We have neither running water nor electricity, just the cool beneath the floorboards. We do have two water tanks, one a square, red-rusted, cast-iron tank that collects the rain-water off the roof, the other an old iron-bound wooden barrel that connects to a downspout outside the backdoor.

They have built me a swing in the backyard and on sunny days I throw my head back, thrust my legs forward, and squint at the summer sky through half-closed eyes, as the old folk push me. “Higher,” I cry out. “Higher.” We don’t have a push lawn-mower, though we occasionally borrow one from the neighbors. We do have a scythe, a sharpener, and a pair of bill-hooks. I have never forgotten that head down, half-shuffle of the scythe man using his scythe: one step sideways, swing, feet together, one step, swing. I loved the sweet smell of the fresh-cut grass as I played the grim reaper in the backyard, always with a grin.

I lived in the bungalow for the whole of one summer. I guess my mother had been placed in some hospital or other for the duration of the fine weather. Nobody talked about her and I never knew what was wrong with her or when she was coming back. It was all a mystery, wrapped in stealth and secrecy. Her absence was a pain in my side, a thorn in my heart, and I still don’t know what happened to her.

I slept in the back bedroom with my Nana in her big double bed. I slept on the far side, next to the outside wall. At night I would often hear the cows as they munched away at the grass and wandered through our un-fenced yard. I say ‘I slept with my Nana’ but in actual fact I fell asleep long before she came to bed, often when the sun was still high in the sky. She always got up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for the men and lunch for my uncle, who worked in town and usually took the early morning bus.  My Nana was up and dressed by the time I woke up, so I rarely saw her in bed.

Some nights I woke up during the night, needing to pee. I never liked using the Royal Doulton chamber pot that squatted coldly beneath the bed, especially if she was in the room. We had no indoor plumbing, nor running water, as I have said, and apart from the rainwater the only tap was at the far end of the bungalow field, a long way away, and all but rainwater had to be fetched by hand in large tin cans that we ferried, empty, to the end of the field and brought back, full, at the end of our excursions to farm, local shop, or beach.

Those cows that wandered through our yard at night really frightened me. We would meet them in the lane some times, a noisy, dusty, flowing, multi-colored tide that flooded the pathway and forced us walkers into the next field, if there was a gate close by, or high into the hedge, if there wasn’t a gate. The one black and white cow in the herd really filled me with fear. She had a crooked horn, had gored a dog, and had kicked out at several of the local residents, injuring at least one of them quite badly, a broken leg, I think. That cow had an evil reputation, especially when, isolated from the herd, she meandered around on her own.

When I wanted to pee, I preferred to walk outside, to the outhouse, rather than use the chamber pot. I would grope my way out of the bedroom, turn right, drop down the steps into the kitchen, and slide back the bolts on the door. Then I would half-open that door and peep out, listening carefully for any sound of the cows tearing out the grass with their teeth, or rumbling gently as they chewed the cud, churning it over and over. I would sniff the night air, and if I sensed a cow in the vicinity, I would pee through the narrow crack of the open door and swear in the morning, when someone found the little puddle, that it wasn’t me, that it must have been the cows.

One quiet night, I walked bravely out into the dark and stepped right into a cold cow pat that lay just outside the back door like a landmine, waiting for my unwary feet. I still remember the cow-manure’s soft squish as it sifted upward through my toes and rose to assault my nose. After I had gone pee, I wiped my foot again and again in the long grass beside the outhouse, then placed it beneath the water-spout from the rain barrel, trying to flush it clean before I crept back into bed.

That was the night I left the back door open. Next morning, my Nana woke us all up with a series of long, loud screams and squeals. The black and white cow had wandered through the open door and ended up in the kitchen where my grandmother had come face to face with it in the early morning light.

A cow in the kitchen, that really spooked me and I still have dreams, nightmares, really, of a herd of cows invading the bungalow, breaking down the doors, and climbing in through the windows, and me all alone, trapped in my bed, shivering ferociously, squeezing myself, trying desperately not to go pee.

Wednesday Workshop: Voice Recordings

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Wednesday Workshop
13 June 2018
Voice Recordings

To be Welsh on Sunday

I am continuing today with my experiments with voice recordings, something that interests me very much. As I said earlier, my voice changes with audience and mood, and early morning, in Island View, with the microphone and Princess Squiffy as an audience, and the window open so the cool morning air can circulate before the heat of the day, is not the best way to induce mood, well, not in this reader anyway.

When I made the recording, I was reading from my book  Though Lovers Be Lost  (available on Amazon) my head was slightly turned away from the laptop’s built-in speaker, and, as a result, the reading is not as loud as I would have liked. It is also a little bit fast. I don’t mind the speed of it: when I was younger I would read this poem in a single breath, all 90 seconds or so of it. Now I need many breaths to get though it successfully. Ah, a young man’s fancy turned to dust …

I will do a retake of the poem, not on my laptop, but on my IMac, and I will add that later, below the first recording which will appear just below this introduction. Then I will add the text. Yesterday I offered text, then reading. Today I offer the reading first. That allows the listener to listen first and then read the text OR to start the audio recording and then follow the text as it is being read. This is a Wednesday Workshop and this is all part of my workshop experiments in reading. Wonderful fun and highly recommended. Thank you for being here with me and remember, your comments are more than welcome, they convert a workshop from a soliloquy into a dialog.

 

Second recording to follow

To be Welsh on Sunday

To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life, that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer, at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time, Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow, The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Photo Credit: Princess Squiffy, my favorite listener. She never complains, but she rarely stays awake.

On Being Welsh

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Cherry
A careful listener

On being Welsh in a land ruled by the English

 I am the all-seeing eyes at the tip of Worm’s Head;
I am the teeth of the rocks at Rhossili;
I am the blackness in Pwll Ddu pool
when the sea-swells suck the stranger in and out,
sanding his bones.

Song pulled taut from a dark Welsh lung,
I am the memories of Silure and beast
mingled in a Gower Cave;
tamer of aurox,
hunter of deer,
caretaker of coracle,
fisher of salmon on the Abertawe tide,
I am the weaver of rhinoceros wool.

I am the minority,
persecuted for my faith,
for my language,
for my sex,
for the coal-dark of my thoughts.

I am the bard whose harp, strung like a bow,
will sing your death with music of arrows
from the wet Welsh woods.

I am the barb that sticks in your throat
from the dark worded ambush of my song.

Commentary:

Continuing with the audio experiments of the last couple of days, here is my voice recording of On Being Welsh. This poem can be found, along with several other Welsh poems, in Though Lovers Be Lost, available on Amazon.

Comments on the readings are very welcome. For my regular readers, if you have a favorite poem of mine that you would like to hear, just let me know and I will record it, specially for you!

 

I am indebted to my friend Jeremy Gilmer for this second reading of On Being Welsh. We will be collaborating on the creation of sound files and posting contrasting readings of various poems to see how different voices and rhythms change sound and meaning in poetry. Hopefully, this is the first in a longer series.

 

 

Brandy Cove

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Brandy Cove

for my cousin
Frances
who lives in
Australia

I remember helping our nana
climb the steep slope
from the beach to the headland.

“It’s easy, nana,” I said. “Look!”
I leaped from tussock to tussock,
up the path, each patch of grass
a stepping stone leading me upwards.

She stood there, below me,
breathing hard, her left hand
held against her chest,
just beneath her heart.

“I’m catching my breath,”
she said, panting.

I ran up and down, then held out
my hand to help her.

It was so long ago.
Who now will hold out
her hand to help me
as I too age and grow
slow?

In Vino Veritas

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In Vino Veritas

Last year, on the road to Pwll Ddu,
I turned the steering wheel too fast
and almost rolled the car I rented.
My mother’s ashes were in the back.

I was driving my father to the Gower
so he could scatter them on the sea,
as she had requested. “Watch what
you’re doing,” my father cried.
“You’ve knocked your mother down.”

Now, as I drink to forget her ashes
tumbling around in their plastic urn,
I call you names. Crude graffiti clings
to the wall I have built between us.

Can you forgive me? In vino veritas,
said the ancient Romans, but truth from
a bottle is a double-edged sword cutting
both striker and person struck. My love,
I sense stark darkness within you. I see
black stars exploding to flood blue skies
with their inevitable ink. Can you feel
the instant hurt behind my eyes, like I
sense yours? Here, in one of our secret
gardens, give me the pardon I never gave
my parents. Heal the harm I’ve done.
Forgive me. Break the cycle. Set us all free.

Gower

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To Be Welsh in Gower

To be Welsh in Gower is to spell it funny
and pronounce it worse: Gŵyr.

It’s to know how to say Pwll Ddu.

It’s meeting the cows in the lane to Brandy Cove
and knowing them all by name and reputation,
which one kicks, which one gores,
when to walk in the middle of the lane,
and when to jump for the safety of the hedge.

It’s to know the difference between the twin farmers
Upper Jones and Lower Jones.

It’s to recognize their sheepdogs, Floss and Jess,
and to call them with their different whistles.

It’s knowing the time of day by sun and shadow.

It’s knowing the tide is in or out
by the salt smell in the air
without ever needing to see the sea;

and now, in this far off land,
it’s hearing your stomach growl
for caws wedi pobi, crempog or teisen lap
whilst memory’s fish-hook tugs at your heart

like your father tugged at salmon bass,
fishing from the sand-pebbled beach
at Rhossili, Pennard, or Three Cliffs.