Rain Again

The rain in Spain
does not stay on the plain

Rain
              When it rained in South Wales, it rained everywhere soaking rich and poor alike. There was no escaping the eternal wetness of Welsh Rain. Whenever we traveled, especially by bus, to another part of Swansea Town, it would be raining there too, but, as my auntie used to tell us when we came back home: “Smile now. Look happy. And remember: we had lovely weather all day. The sun was shining over there where we were. Raining here, at home, all day, was it? What a pity. You should have come on the bus with us!” I remember her smiling, all wrinkles round the eyes, her false teeth shining white, as she flashed a horse’s collar coal-scuttle of a grin, absolutely shameless. But we’d back her up. We’d all smile happily and laugh, and dance, and jump up and down, basking in the joy of the falsified sunshine of her wonderful smile, her shining false teeth. And she was right: where we had been together, the sun had shone all day, in spite of the umbrellas, our wet, cold feet, and all the undoubted evidence of a day of rain.

 

Bath Time

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Bath Time

              My grandfather took a bath once a year, On New Year’s Eve, so he could be ready, so he said, washed and clean, for the New Year. His bath day / birthday was a family event. If we wanted a bath, well the bath water didn’t stay hot for long in the bath-tub at the top of the house, under the rafters, so an old tin bath was dragged into the kitchen and a black, iron kettle was placed on the hob, and water was boiled. One by one, we were immersed, and scrubbed, to emerge pink and glossy. All this happened in the kitchen in front of the fireplace, where we sat up wrapped in bath-robes and blankets, drinking hot cocoa so we wouldn’t catch cold. But my grandfather took his bath at the top of the house, under the rafters, in the old chipped enamel tub with its lion-claw feet, water-stained sides, and its old brass taps. He walked up there fully clothed, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door behind him, drawing the bolt with a finality that shut us all out. He sang the great choruses from Aida, and Nabucco, and we imagined him, wallowing there, in the warm water, with all his clothes on, for it was hard to imagine my grandfather naked. Then, half an hour later, he would emerge, looking just like he did when he walked into the bathroom. We never heard the water running, nor did we hear it draining away. All we heard was the The Hebrew Slaves’ Chorus and my grandfather swinging his Blacksmith’s hammer as he battered at the New Year’s Anvil.

Comment: I didn’t have a photo of an old bath tub in my collection, so the lead picture is one of Geoff Slater’s murals: a buoy (pronounced ‘boy’ in Wales), taking a bath in the sea.  Let me know if you like these Welsh childhood memories, and I will keep adding to them. They are certainly fun to write and I find incredible the many ways in which memories surge as I am learning to speak Welsh. Each new chapter in my journey seems to start a new wave of thought.

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.

Copperopolis

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Copperopolis
(1717 / 1804)

mountains of the moon
lunar landscapes
lunatic fringes
mercury madness
running through brains

scabs picked
wounds running raw
skin blotched red
eyes blurred
twitching

wait a hundred years
grass might grow back
earth might give flowers
bay waters might flow free

my grandfather coughs
his lungs up
bit by bit

he’ll never again know
the scent of flowers
taste oysters from the bay
smell sea-fresh air