Reflections

Reflections

What do we really see
when we look in the mirror?
Do we see our real selves
or do we see the sad distortions
of our diminishment?

The Fairground on the Recreation Field
in Swansea used to have a hall of mirrors.
You handed over your three-penny bit,
not the silver one your granny gave you
so you would have good luck always,
then you walk up the wooden stair,
and there you are, staring at yourself.

Fatter, thinner, shorter, taller,
a half-and-half version,
thinner at the top
and so much fatter at the bottom,
like those old Christmas figures
you could flick, but never roll over.
Giggle city: and hysterics ruled.

Or did they?
So sad to think that, back then,
I saw myself as I am now:
forehead larger, fatter one end,
thinner at the other
with shriveled shanks,
wasted muscles.

And the Fairground brain scan?
Well, it didn’t exist. Thank God.
What is there now within my skull?
Just a crackle of old, dead leaves,
a rat-filled attic of dried memories,
a sand-bag of half-forgotten thoughts.

I remember sitting there,
at the Slip on Swansea Sands,
with the summer ending,
thinking about going back to school,
watching the tide creep slowly in,
wondering what life was all about.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Reflections

Moment

Moment
St. Patrick’s Day

So soft, so subtle, this moment,
when land and sea reach out
and touch each other,
sea hand offered for the land
to raise up and kiss.

The Equinox draws near.
This is the moment when sun and moon,
day and night are equal.
It is the moment when the world
seems to stop, then moves again
in another direction,
from winter’s darkness into daylight
and the spring’s delight.

And still I live in hopes to see
the land of my birth once more,
the land of my fathers
where my father and mother met,
the land where I first saw daylight,
felt the land reach out to the sea,
felt the joy of the sun-licked sea kiss,
saw daffodils dance on the shore,
and swans swimming on the sea.

“And still I live in hopes to see…
Swansea Town once more.”

Click here for Roger’s reading on Acorn.
Moment

Teeth WFNB 5 March 2022

Teeth WFNB
5 March 2022
This is the story I was reading last night when Island View suffered its brief power outage and I was cut off from the WFNB Zoom reading. My apologies for the break in communications. First the text and then the live reading.

Lunchtime.
            I open a can of tom8to soup and heat it on the stove. I slice the remains of yesterday’s loaf of bread into one-inch cubes and fry them in olive oil and garlic. Tom8to soup with croutons. Then I put two slices of bread in the toaster. My father will only eat toast soaked in butter and layered with Marmite when he eats tomahto soup.
            “Lunch is ready,” I call out.
            The black American Cocker Spaniel, bought by my mother in a moment of madness, by telephone, unseen, camps in the kitchen. It nests at the far end of the table, by the stove, and defends its territory with warning growls and a snapping of yellowed teeth. I do my best to avoid the dog.
            “Dad, your lunch is ready,” I call out, a little bit louder. Dog, as my father calls it, growls and clatters its teeth. It has hidden a treasure in the folds of its old, gray comfort blanket, and guards it with the fierce, loving worry of a dragon protecting its golden hoard.
            My father enters the kitchen just as I place the soup on the table.
            “I’m not ready to eat,” my father growls. Put it back in the pot.”
            “What’s wrong, dad? I thought you were hungry.”
            “My teeth,” my father mumbles through a mouthful of pink gums. “I can’t find my teeth.”
            “Where on earth did you put them?”
            “I don’t know. If I knew where I’d put them, I wouldn’t have lost them.”
            My father circulates round the kitchen opening drawers, lifting saucepan lids, and shaking empty yogurt pots to see if they’ll offer up the rattling sound of lost teeth.
            “I can’t find them anywhere. I can’t eat lunch without my teeth.”
            “But it’s only soup, dad, tom8to soup.”
            “I don’t like tom8to soup. Your mother always made tomahto soup. Why can’t you be more like your mother?”
            “Sorry, dad. I’ll call it tomahto soup, if that will make you feel better. But it’s still made out of tom8toes.”
            “Don’t be so sarcastic. Help me find my teeth,” my father stomps towards the stove and Dog growls fiercely from its blanket as it guards its treasure.
            “Take that, you dirty dog,” my father pokes Dog in the ribs with his stick and Dog howls and spits out what it is chewing.
            “There they are,” my father’s voice trembles with excitement. He bends down, picks up his teeth, still hairy from the blanket and bubbly from Dog’s saliva, and pops them into his mouth. “That’s better,” he says, sitting down at the table. “Now I can enjoy my lunch.”

Click on this link for a ‘live’ reading of the story,
complete with Welsh accent.

Daffodil Day

Daffodil Day

Daffodils

For ten long days the daffodils
endured, bringing to vase and breakfast-
table stored up sunshine and the silky
softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grew stronger as they
gathered strength from the sugar
we placed in their water, but now
they have withered and their day’s done.

Dry and shriveled they stand paper-
thin and brown, crisp to the touch.
They hang their heads:
oncoming death weighs them down.

Click here for Roger’s reading.
Daffodils

On Being Welsh

On Being Welsh

On being Welsh in a land ruled by the English
Dydd Dewi Sant Hapus

             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
unleashed from the wet Welsh woods.

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

Click here for Roger’s reading.
On Being Welsh

Real Friends

Real Friends
Thursday Thoughts
23 September 2021

A good friend of mine wrote to me the other day. “Have you noticed,” he asked, “that you have less REAL friends the older you get?”

In my reply, I said the following. “Oh dear yes, and triply so since Covid set in. I have a few remaining friends who correspond regularly on e-mail, a couple of friends who talk regularly on the phone, and the rest, in spite of all the Covid-19 promises of TLC for the aging, have been AWOL for the best part of two years. Mind you, I have kept myself to myself. In fact, I have become rather anti-social in face to face / mask to mask situations!”

This question-asking friend, now lives in another province, in a care home for the ageing. Over the ages, such homes have had many names. In South Wales they were called the Workhouse, and that’s where the broken old men from the mines and the industrial smelters ended up. Places of shame. Places to be feared. Then we had Old Folks Homes. Some were called Sanctuaries. Others are now called Hospices or Care Homes and the Hospitals themselves have been forced to take on the task of looking after our old and frail senior citizens. Some of our seniors were lucky, fell into good homes, and were blessed. Others were cursed, poor things, fell into hopeless surroundings, and lost all hope. As for the homes themselves, some were run by religious groups, others by charities, a few by the state or local health authorities. Some were non-profit, others, well, we are having a debate, here in Canada, about some of the more unscrupulous and unhealthy care homes that are run for healthy profits right now.

And that debate was caused by Covid-19. Under-paid employees, working several care homes, not just one, travelling from home to home, and the pandemic entering those homes and settling in there, causing immense suffering, damage, and death. I look on this as CCD. Originally, the initials spelled out Colony Collapse Disorder, the death moth that entered the bee-hives and caused their buzzing to end in silence. Now, for me, they stand for Covid Collateral Damage. And that form of CCD is everywhere.

You can see it in families that are breaking up. One partner loses their job, their self-respect, and goes out looking elsewhere for comfort and for pastures green. Another is forced into excessive overtime because other members of their team, now working from home, all of them, cannot cope with home-schooling, house-work, partner, and children present all day long. They break down under the stress, can function no longer, and society starts to fall apart.

Mind you, it has been falling apart for years. When I lived in Spain, I was adopted by a family in Santander who owned and lived in a huge house. The grand-mother was the matriarch and she shared the house with three siblings, two unmarried, and one divorced. The parents lived there, on and off, as they had jobs elsewhere. A country cousin, same age as the grand-parents’ generation, also lived there and did the cooking and cleaning. And the grand-children settled in there too, during term time. When the family gathered for the Sunday meal, there were 22-24 of us around that dining-room table. In such a large family setting, there were baby-sitters at hand, somebody was always employed, somebody always knew the solution to a problem, or could find one pretty quickly.

When we lived in Swansea, two sets of grand-parents were close, as were aunties, uncles, cousins, and a network of friendly faces, all of whom gathered round in an emergency. But, bit by bit, that family disintegrated. Some went to London, others to Bristol, a few to Birmingham, we moved to Cardiff. In Cardiff we went from a family network to a nuclear family, consisting of my mother, my father, and I. Both my parents worked and I was at a boarding-school, term-time, but a latch-key kid during school holidays, cooking for myself, looking after the house, waiting for my parents to come home. When I, in my turn, left for Canada, my parents were left as a family of two, then, when my mother died, a family of one. Of course, there were Social Services. Social Workers visited every so often, but the gaps got longer, the loneliness grew, and a terrible isolation took over every aspect of my father’s life. When I flew back from Canada to Wales to visit him in Wales one year, I found no food in the house, my father totally uncared for, unwanted and, by this stage, unwilling to cooperate. he wanted to stay in his home. He wouldn’t move. In truth, he had become a miserable old man who wouldn’t change, wouldn’t accept help, and could no longer look after himself.

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I called him from Canada. He did not pick up the phone. I called his brother, who lived in another town some forty miles away. He’s like that now came my uncle’s reply. He’s fine. Don’t worry. But worry I did. Three days later, his brother called me back. My father had suffered a heart attack and a stroke on the anniversary of my mother’s death. He had lain on the bedroom door for three days, no food, no water, no visitors, until his brother had finally got worried and decided to come round and see what was happening.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We all know that phrase. Unfortunately, many are not that tough. They get going all right: they go right out through the door and vanish into the sunset. So, my thoughts for today: what exactly is a friend, what do friends actually do, what is a fair-weather-friend, what are friends for, how many real friends do we really have, and yes, the question that started me on this rant, do real friends diminish in number as we grow older?

As my grand-mother told me, a long, long time ago, in the warmth of her Welsh kitchen: “Roger, a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Luckily, I still I have some real friends who are there when I need them. Thank you, real friends. You know who you are and I am very grateful to you. Covid-19 and CCD have not been easy.


And every valley

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

5

And Every Valley

And every valley shall be filled with coal.
And the miners will mine, growing old
before their time, with pneumoconiosis
a constant companion, and that dark spot
on the grey slide of the sidewalk a mining
souvenir coughed up from the depths
of lungs that so seldom saw the sun
and soaked themselves in the black dust
that cluttered, clogged, bent and twisted
those beautiful young bodies into ageing,
pipe-cleaner shapes, yellowed and inked
with nicotine and sorrows buried so deep,
a thousand, two thousand feet deep down,
and often so far out to sea that loved ones
knew their loved ones would never see
the white handkerchiefs waved, never
in surrender but in a butterfly prayer,
an offering, and a blessing that their men
would survive the shift and come back
to the surface and live again amidst family
and friends and always the fear, the pinched
-face, livid, living fear that such an ending
might never be the one on offer, but rather
the grimmer end of gas, or flame, or collapse,
with the pit wheels stopped, and the sirens
blaring, and the black crowds gathering, and
no canaries, no miners, singing in their cages.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

And every valley

Man from Merthyr

Man from Merthyr

Memory loss punched holes in your head
and let in the dark, instead of the light.
Constellations faded from your sight,
erased by the arch-angel’s coal-dust wing.

 “I’m shrinking,” you said, the last time I saw you,
you, who had been taller, were now smaller than me.

 Tonight, when the harvest moon shines bright
and drowns the stars in its sea of light,
I will sit by my window and watch for your soul
as it rides its coal-fired rocket to eternity.

My eyes will be dry. I do not want pink runnels
running down this coal-miner’s unwashed face.
I’ll sing you a Welsh lullaby, to help you sleep.

“When the coal comes from the Rhondda
down the Merthyr-Taff Vale line,
when the coal comes from the Rhondda
I’ll be there.”

With you, my friend, shoulder to shoulder.
“With my golden pick and shovel, I’ll be there.”
Farewell, my friend, safe journey, sleep deep,
as deep as a Rhondda coal mine may you sleep.

On Being Welsh

On Being Welsh
in a land ruled by the English

On Being Welsh
in a land ruled by the English

is available at the following links:

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/9388319842

https://www.amazon.com/dp/9388319842

A shortened version of this manuscript was awarded first place in the David Adams Richards Awards for a prose manuscript by the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, 2020.

Individual stories have been published in Anti-Lang (M. T. Head), West Coast Short Story Slam (Teeth), and on commuterlit.com (Remembrance Day).

Individual stories have won awards as follows: Butterflies (Honorable Mention, Atlantic Short Story Competition, Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia), Auntie Gladys (Finalist, Wordfeast NB, Postcard Stories), Message in a Bottle (Honorable Mention, WFNB Creative Non-Fiction), The Key (Finalist, CBC Short Story Competition), Letting Go (First Place, WFNB Douglas Kyle Memorial, short story).

I would like to thank Lucinda Flemer, Primum Mobile, the first mover, who brought together the KIRA artists and turned them into a creative community. These artists include Geoff Slater and Chuck Bowie, both of whom have influenced the writings in this book. A special thank you must go to Ginger Marcinkowski, my Beta reader, who really deserves an Alpha Grade for all her help and understanding.

I would also like to thank Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agarwal (Managing Editor) Cyberwit.net for his editing skills and his invitation to participate in this poetry series.

Donna Morrissey, award winning Canadian author and judge of the 2020 D. A. Richards Award, wrote the following about my winning submission.

Judge’s Judgement: “This writer’s prose is eloquent, lyrical and beautiful. His stories are disturbing and memorable. It is an evocative journey through the deeply seeing eyes of an old man, and back through his tormented and deeply felt self as a beaten boy. There were times I held my breath against his suffering, and times I applauded his courage to keep on living. At all times I was held by the strength of such writing as would allow me those sparse and limited visuals to the bruising of the flesh whilst leading me directly into the tendered heart. Congratulations.” 

The Story: Set in Tara Manor, a boutique hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, the narrator searches for a story he can write. He rejects the stories and myths of other people and indigenous races, only to discover that he must be the subject of his own tale. It is a story of childhood abuse, first at the hands of his own family and then in Catholic and Protestant boarding schools in Wales where he was sent at the early age of six. It tells of a growing self-distancing from the world, including self-harm and attempted suicide, and then of self-discovery, understanding, and self-forgiveness, far from his Welsh homeland, in the Maritime beauty of Atlantic Canada.

Editor’s Comment: No doubt, here in these poems we are impressed by the ease and strength of the rhythm. Several of these poems show the passionate flight of profound imagination. The poems have poignant force of true feeling. All poems are irresistibly powerful.

Author’s Comment: Poems or stories? Both really, for On Being Welsh is composed of poetry written, not in verse, but in prose. Prose poems then, or poems in prose. How could I write anything but poetry when I come from the same town in Wales as Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins. I too was born with music in my heart and poetry on my lips.

On Being Welsh

On Being Welsh in a land ruled by the English

This is now published and in my hands. I do not yet have full details on links and where and how to purchase, but I will put them up as soon as I have them. Meanwhile, I am grateful to my cover artist, who always does such a great job, and to my editor, Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agarwal (Managing Editor) Cyberwit.net. What a pleasure it has been to work with him. The cover picture, incidentally, is An Only Son.

I am now working on my next book, Stars at Elbow and Foot. I am sure many will recognize the title as coming from a line of a man born in the same town in Wales as I was: Dylan Thomas. The island in the picture is the only Island visible in Island View, incidentally. Alas, I do not have a picture of my cat, though I may put one on my next cover.

Ah yes, time to celebrate. I guess we’ll open a barrel of wine tonight. Hopefully we won’t finish it one sitting. I’d be lying if we did. This incidentally is the bodega where I got baptized. If you haven’t got baptized in a Spanish bodega, you haven’t lived. I’ll tell you about it sometime. How I miss that verdejo! Unfortunately, the verdejo didn’t miss me, and that’s how I got baptized. ‘Ya te hemos bautizado!’ “Que sea yo, y no el vino.” And if you understand that, you speak pretty good Spanish or Spanish pretty good … and you probably have an evil mind, just like mine.

Here I am, on the sea-shore, selling C-shells and thinking about my evil mind. But remember, my evil mind is mine, and it’s a one-of-a-kind. You go and find your own. And watch out for those Saint John C-gulls.

Go on, buy one and read it.
I dare you.