Swansea

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Swansea

To be Welsh in Swansea is to know each stop
on the Mumbles Railway: the Slip, the Rec,
Singleton Park, Blackpill, West Cross, Oystermouth,
the Mumbles Pier. It’s to remember where single
lines turn double by Green’s ice‑cream stall.

It’s to know where the trams fall silent, like dinosaurs,
and wait without grunting for one to pass the other.
As you wait you can hear the winter roar of the rugby
crowd or St. Helen’s summer “click” of ball on bat.

Today the tide is out and the nets are golden with starfish
as if a night sky stretched across day’s horizon.
Mudflats rule the bay beyond the sand, and banana boats
ride the distant waves, waiting for the tide to turn.

When it does, the Mumbles Railway has been sold
to a Texas millionaire and the brown and yellow busses
no longer run to Bishopston, Langland, Caswell,
Pyle Corner, Pennard, Three Cliffs, Ilston, Rhossili:
sweet names of sea and sand where my father fished
for salmon bass, his thin line cast defiantly at a rising sea
that would smash the walls of the sandcastles I built to last
forever, unaware that time’s rising tide would breach
their defenses, leaving them in ruins on the summer
beaches where I dreamed my buoyant boyhood away.

Commentary: The Mumbles Pier from Limeslade. This is the first water color painted by my father’s brother, my godfather after whom I received my second name. He took up painting after he retired and became a quite accomplished amateur water colorist. He gave me four of his water colors, I particularly wanted this, his first, and the later ones are excellent, especially the award-winning paintings, of which I have one.

Murals

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Murals
McAdam Railway Station #11

Painting a mural,
inside, interior
wall, knowing it will
stand time’s test.

Viaduct broken,
a tumbled engine,
Canadian workers,
railwaymen all,

some from Macadam,
pebbled the floor,
handrail, radiator
camouflaged for war,

part of the painting.
Depart from the station.
Turn right. Straight ahead,
flaked peeling paint.

So sad, this outside
mural, exposed to winter’s
snow, frost, winds, and ice.
So vulnerable

and so ephemeral.
Such a short-lived
summer, over in a day.
Butterfly on a rock.

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Comment: This sequence comes from the indoor and outdoor work (murals) of my friend Geoff Slater. Geoff told me how ephemeral were the outdoor murals with a life-span of about ten years before they needed redoing. After that, the paint starts to fade, then crack, then dry and peel away. Our Canadian winters with their icy cold and the ensuing springs with their frost and thaw do not help. The protection, no ice, no snow, no sun, no rain, afforded to the interior murals means that they will last so much longer. Our outdoor art, unless cast in the firmest stone, is ephemeral. Like a butterfly, it will not last much longer than a brief summer day. Hence the final metaphor.

In the Cave

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In the Cave
(514-520 BC)

one goes on a journey
knows where one’s been

reality returning
one tells what one’s seen

shadows dancing
on night’s silver screen

verbal sketches
from where one’s been

speaking other languages
heard not seen

the more one speaks
the more others think
‘dream’

a dream for those
who’ve never been
where one’s been

 

Murals

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Murals

Painting a mural,
inside, interior
wall, knowing it will
stand time’s test.

Viaduct broken,
a tumbled engine,
Canadian workers,
railwaymen all,

some from Macadam,
pebbled the floor,
handrail, radiator
camouflaged for war,

part of the painting.
Depart from the station.
Turn right. Straight ahead,
flaked peeling paint.

So sad, this outside
mural, exposed to winter’s
snow, frost, winds, and ice.
So vulnerable

and so ephemeral.
Butterfly on a rock.
Such a short-lived
summer, over in a day.

Comment:

My friend, Geoff Slater, inventor of line painting and a renowned muralist, is painting a mural at Macadam Railway Station celebrating the role of Canadian railway engineers in WWI. Here are two fragments  from his unfinished mural. The poem above is based on his lamentation that his outdoor murals, subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous Canadian winter weather, are ephemeral, like butterflies, and cannot endure.

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Jack Pine at Tara Manor

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Jack Pine at Tara Manor
(1770 & 1834 & 1917 & 1977 & 2018 AD)

Tara Manor jack pine
arm-waving Maritimer
long-past sea-faring
cult-haired declamation
poem to a wilderness
cultured
cultivated now

you radiate disorder
flustered
clicking needles
clustered
knitting the wind

lop-sided
radical forest church
spired with birds
crows’ nest crowned
growing out extravagant

salted the air
old man’s beard
sprouting fresh bristles
old salt sea salt

always a helping branch
to point the time of day
each rough-barked limb
a friendly hand extended

every night
your black bristling branches
haul down the sun

Stones (3 May 1808)

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Stones
(3 May 1808 AD)

stones once thrown
can never be brought back
nor words once spoken
nor the bullet
once released
from musket or gun

here lies who knows who
face down in the dust
shirt soaked in blood
body pierced with lead

nor water time nor love
can ever flow back
beneath that bridge

some kneel some pray
some raise their eyes
to uncaring skies
every one of them dies
shooters
those waiting to be shot

even the soldiers
reloading their guns
never understand
how time’s tide runs
ebbs and then flows
until everyone goes

this you
lying face down
on cobble stones
well know

 

Comment: 

The poem is drawn in part from the Goya painting of the shootings, El tres de mayo de 1808. The painting above is a close-up of Geoff Slater’s latest mural, still in progress, at Macadam Railway Station in New Brunswick. “If only the stones could speak, what stories they would tell.” This re-post was inspired by a visit to Seasons of the Witch on  Mr. Cake’s Cake or Death site with its images of Goya’s Black Paintings. So, we have a continuing Goya mini-Fest, May the Second and May the third.

Tongue-Tied

 

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Tongue-Tied
(2 May 1808 AD)

bottle tops unscrewed
tighter than the tightest
oyster refusing to open
pointed knife and scissors

plastic this many layered
onion-skin’s pliant defiance
waging its guerrilla war
against arthritic fingers

words tongue-twisted
damning dark mouths
white picket fences
midnight the faces
lightning the teeth

felonious figures
grimy with grimaces
Mother Hubbard’s
cupboard empty hearts

robin redbreasts
battering heads wings legs
against stony cobbles
if only stones could speak
what stories they would tell
this city this sunny square
anywhere

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Comment:

El dos de mayo, 1808, marks the start of the Spanish War of Independence. The people of Madrid rose up against Napoleon’s Mamelukes and Goya painted that encounter in his Dos de Mayo. On the third of May, 1808, Goya also bore witness to the shootings when Napoleon’s troops took hostages and shot them. Two great and wonderful paintings which we can celebrate today and tomorrow. Also well worth a visit, today and tomorrow, is Mr. Cake’s Cake or Death site with his blog on Seasons of Witches and his introduction to Goya’s Black Paintings. Another site that merits serious attention is Geoff Slater’s art site.