Archive for October, 2016


‘For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.’  Christopher Smart


Unlike kind Kit Smart, incarcerated,

by his father-in-law, in bedlam –

and estranged from his children forever –

I do not have a cat. I have the neighbour’s.

I think there is only one though it dresses

in ginger, tortoiseshell, Friesian, motley,

whatever. It is ‘the Devil, who is death’

for it stalks the wren, the blackbird, the robin,

that sing and nest. Poor Christopher – busy hack,

fine poet – died a debtor, without Jeffroy,

in prison. Could he hear the red kites

long, sad whistle above the sewer

and the rats chatter? Our robins sang arias

all day. Now they have gone – for somewhere to breed

safe and sure from a cat of disguises –

leaving a clutch of sky blue eggs unhatched.





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Her mother fixes a sheet of A4,

with a strip of masking tape top and bottom,

to the white board on the easel and ties

an apron round the little artist, who,

when she pulls the wrapping off the present

knows immediately what it is, holding

the child-size plastic palette exactly

as she should. Having chosen the colours –

her favourites: yellow, green, orange, red –

her mother places the paints in the wells.

She chooses a brush, begins, protrudes her tongue,

embodying concentration. There is

nothing random here. Her intellectual

eye intuitively knows where to place

each stroke – dry-brush, under-paint, scumble –

and paint over to create new colours

and shades, changing brushes for breadth, depth

and finesse – and knows when it is finished.

Untaught or, rather, unspoiled, she has begun

with abstraction: with colour, texture, form,

making them one, an aspiration

that transcends tens of millennia.





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Walking – toward the town – down Henlys Lane,

its low, lichen covered dry stone walls

adorned with bird’s-foot trefoil, its borders

with cow parsley and, where run-off

gathers from Baron’s Hill, red campion,

we note ahead, amongst the cattle,

the usual, large flock of herring gulls,

facing south in the low-lying marshy field.

All as we have come to know and like.

But, today, we hear an explosion – loud

enough but too workaday to be thunder.

We stop and look beyond the library,

the castle and the Straits to search the mauve

galleries of Bethesda’s slate quarries.

Nothing disturbs the distant, hazy stillness.


Later, on the way to the car, we pass

the unfinished Plantagenet castle

the final subjection of the Welsh made

redundant and hear a second blasting

from across the waters – and I know

how favoured our generation was removed

from wars, and how, like flowers, tenuous,

robust, our path to the future or the past.




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We are zapping Lego Star Wars’ characters.

Patiently, she shows me how to handle

the console – its buttons and paddle.

How kind she is about my ineptitude!

She commentates throughout. I am a convert.

This is no more solitary than reading –

with a work-out of psycho-motor skills!


But she is passive watching ‘Ninjago’ –

its violence, rudeness, a lack of irony,

a plenty of sarcasm – and its Lego

manikins: humour bypass, prosthetic hands,

stunted vocal range, corporate creatures

stumping through their weatherless universe

in full-length feature advertisements.


She begins to recover,  trying to

balance a peacock feather on her palm.

We suggest the park where she has learned to climb

a holly tree – up inside the branches,

thick with dark leaves and bright with berries

in the mellow, October weather.


She scoots through the park gates before us

but swiftly reappears. “Grandma, Grandpa, look!”

and points. The autumn’s leaves are spread on paths

and grass like golden snow.




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We were staying that weekend with your parents

at their corner shop to tell them you were

two months pregnant. You were already there

on Friday night when I came through the back door.

You were in the kitchen at the sink. A programme

about Captain Scott and his companions

entombed in ice and sliding seawards

was playing unwatched in the living room.

You told me the news about Aberfan.


That evening and in the many, many days

to follow there were bulletins and pictures,

all black and white memory suggests –

the rescuers of hope, the devastation –

then explanations, recriminations –

‘the price of coal’, a forgotten spring

seeping beneath the tip – but, above all,

above all, the hillside of dark slag

glistening in the October sunlight.


Twenty years later I took a school assembly

and read Leslie Norris’s ‘Elegy

for David Beynon’, the deputy head

at Pant Glas Primary, who died

in the slurry with children in his arms.

I did not cry then, a youngish man,

as I read the last quatrains to an intent

audience of young people but I cry now,

in the knowledge of my age, writing of

such love amid such waste.



Notes: 1. The Aberfan disaster occured on 21st October 1966; 2. Leslie Norris’s poem, ‘Elegy for David Benyon’ –




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