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It was an iron hard January Sunday

before dawn when I left Bala – that one street,

Bible town – for the first time and forever,

a white fiver in the lining of my coat.

I shut up the rented, furnished cottage,

putting the key through the letter box.

I heard it rattle on the slate floor,

and walked down the dark track to the high street

with its single gas lamp. I had my father’s

cardboard suitcase for my clothes, my mother’s

worn music satchel for my poems.


My parents died of phthisis a month apart

the year of the Jubilee, when beacons

flickered from hill top to mountain summit.

My tad had led a strike at Blaenau

and never worked in the quarries again.

My mam played the organ in the chapel

and the old tunes on the harp at home.


I took the unlit path to the station.

It curved round the head of the lake,

which lapped unseen on the pebbly shore.

The Dee rises above the lake, flows through it,

down valleys, past meadows to the Irish Sea.

I crossed the black river, fast with winter rains,

by a narrow, clattering wooden bridge.


As the first train from Barmouth arrived

with surges of steam and clanking metal,

snow began to fall, big flakes drifting down

slowly, glinting in the guttering lights.

I had a warm compartment to myself,

the seat cloth smelling, as usual,

of sharp soot and stale tobacco smoke.

I watched the flakes melt on the toes of my boots.


In the softening light of the oil lamps

the sepia photographs glowed: of the line

of bathing machines on Barmouth beach,

and swimmers diving from the flat rocks

in the Dee at Llangollen, and Chirk Castle

on its commanding rise. I would change at Chirk –

no more than twenty miles from Bala

as a crow might fly over Glyn Ceiriog,

and where I had never been – to catch

the Great Western Paddington express.

I thought of the pictures I had seen of London,

imagined myself feeding the pigeons

in Trafalgar Square, walking purposefully

along Fleet Street to buy a typewriter

second hand, browsing on Charing Cross Road.


We stopped at Corwen, snow falling faster.

I heard a compartment door slam shut

and the guard’s whistle trill. The train jerked.

In my head, I counted the poems

in the satchel: twenty nature poems

in Welsh, ten poems in English of

imagined love. When we arrived at Carrog –

named for the estate that occupied the land –

the snow seemed to fall faster, more thickly,

against the yellow of the station’s lamps.


Carrog was a halt and yet the five minutes

became ten, fifteen – and the compartment chilled,

as a grey daylight spread and a porter

extinguished the lamps. I barely noticed,

reciting my poems sotto voce,

until the guard opened the carriage door.

He was English and, as he snuffed out

the oil lamps, told me there was a flock of sheep

blocking the line near Glyndyfrdwy.


In the waiting room, another passenger

and the porter were standing close to the fire,

holding forth in Welsh about snows of the past.

They made room for me, and the porter

began to talk of Owain Glynd?r

and his escape – by way of Glyn Ceiriog –

from his obtuse English pursuers.

The other began punning Glynd?r

with Glyndyfrdwy – valley of water,

valley of the Dee. ‘Dyfrdwy, Dyfrdwy,’

he said over and over and laughed.

‘The very sound of water flowing over stones –

as elusive as the prince himself.’


My Sunday of leaving home and heavy snow

was Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg,

unarmed factory workers massacred

in front of the Romanov’s Winter Palace –

while I was mouthing my poetry

of romance and wilderness.

I wrote no poems after that – only prose.

The halt at Carrog had become for me

an icon of provincial whimsy,

of rural nostalgia, soft as the witless

sheep flocking in snow on the iron rails,

as chords plucked on a harp.




© Copyright David Selzer
3 Responses
  • John Huddart
    February 22, 2018

    This is a brilliant narrative – so well observed, and so conscious of time and place. A marvelous and very re-readable piece.

  • Nathalie Sejean
    March 7, 2018

    David Selzer, thanks so much for the post. Much thanks again. Really Cool.

  • Alan Horne
    March 23, 2018

    David this is really good. The slow build-up with all the little details, like the rattle of the keys, is like a mystery story, with a suitable twist at the end. I really liked all the slightly surreal images: the snow, the sheep, and the odd conversation in the waiting room.

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