‘He Loved Light, Freedom and Animals’ by Mike Jenkins

An inscription on the grave of one of the children who died in the Aberfan disaster of October 21st, 1966

 

No grave could contain him.

He will always be young

in the classroom

waving an answer

like a greeting.

 

Buried alive –

alive he is

by the river

skimming stones down

the path of the sun.

 

When the tumour on the hillside

burst and the black blood

of coal drowned him,

he ran forever

with his sheepdog leaping

for sticks, tumbling together

in windblown abandon.

 

I gulp back tears

because of a notion of manliness.

After the October rain

the slag-heap sagged

its greedy coalowner’s belly.

 

He drew a picture of a wren,

his favourite bird for fraility

and determination. His eyes gleamed

as gorse-flowers do now

above the village.

 

His scream was stopped mid-flight.

Black and blemished

with the hill’s sickness

he must have been,

like a child collier

dragged out of one of Bute’s mines –

a limp statistic.

 

There he is, climbing a tree,

mimicking an ape, calling out names

at classmates. Laughs springing

down the slope. My wife hears them

her ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing,

and I try to foster the inscription,

away from its stubborn stone.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke


Not so Fun facts: This poem refers to the Aberfan disaster the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15 am on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings. The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.

I’ve been to the town and it’s still a very quiet place to this day as a generation of the community was lost in that disaster. Where the junior school once stood there is now a memorial garden.

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Neighbours by Mike Jenkins

Yesterday, the children made the street

into a stadium; their cat

a docile audience. As they cheered

a score it seemed there was a camera

in the sky to record their elation.

Men polished cars, like soldiers

getting ready for an inspection.

Women, of course, were banished

from daylight: the smells of roasts merging

like the car-wash channels joining.

Today, two horses trespass over boundaries

of content; barebacked, as if they’d just

thrown off the saddle of some film.

They hoof up lawns – brown patches like tea-stains.

A woman in an apron tries to sweep away

the stallion, his penis wagging back at her broom.

I swop smiles with an Indian woman, door to door.

These neighbours bring us out from our burrows –

the stampede of light watering our eyes.

 

By Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke

Among Shoals of Stars by Mike Jenkins

Each night the sea

tires of its slopping and slapping

and ascends the limestone staircase

of cactus-sharp stone.

 

It lies down

where sky has been,

waving away the blue

and only hooded clouds

show its occasional restlessness.

 

Bright fish with mouths

that globe, look down on me

and the breezy whish-whish

of sea-weed is the needled

branches of every pine.

 

I see the lights

of planes as they are out

trawling for dreams.

The moon spills milk

which I drink in,

before I too lie down

to sleep among shoals of stars.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Invisible Times

Mouthy by Mike Jenkins

Sborin, sir!

We’re always doin racism.

It’s that or death, sir.

Yew’re morbid, yew are,

or gotta thing about the blacks.

 

But sir mun! Carn we do summin interestin

like Aids or watch a video o’ Neighbours?

Mrs Williams Media upstairs ave got em.

 

Oh no! Not another poem!

They’re always crap, rubbish

not enough action, don’ rhyme.

 

Yer, sir, this one’s got language in it!

It’s all about sex!

Yew’re bloody kinky yew are!

I’m gettin my Mam up yer.

 

Sir! We aven done work frages,

on’y chopsin in groups.

We ewsed t’do real English

when we woz younger,

exercises an fillin in gaps.

 

Sir mun! Don’ keep askin me

wha we should do,

yew’re the bloody teacher!

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Graffiti Narratives


Fun fact: The accent and inflections here are indicative of the Merthyr style of Welsh-English or ‘Wenglish’ dialect. Jenkins taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for approximately two decades prior to that. At the end of the 2008–9 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. An extract from one of Mike Jenkins’s poems has been used as part of the public realm regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil town centre.

Moithered by Mike Jenkins

She used it totally out of place

but natural as calling an infant ‘Babes!’

The poet’s moithered by all that pollution

like herself annoyed at my constant questions.

 

The word was her, chewing-gum twirler

giving so much lip and jip,

a desk-scribbler stirrer

using her tongue as a whip.

 

It was perfect for flustered:

I could imagine the artist

as all the complex phrases whirred

and churned, his hair in a twist.

 

No examiner could possibly weight it,

no educationalist glue and frame it:

it leapt out like her laughter

and my red mark was the real error.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Red Landscapes

I by Mike Jenkins

I is the biggest word

in the English language –

some people yawn bored

as soon as you mention it.

 

I know people who erect crosses

made from it

and then refuse to carry them.

 

I know people who would

like to keep changing it

every week like fashionable clothing.

 

I know people who hate it so much

it’s become an obcession,

like a priest always ranting against sin.

 

In English, ‘I’ begins the sentence:

the other words queue up behind it

waiting for their instructions.

 

You must write ‘I’ with a capital letter.

but ‘we’ with a small one.

Why? … well… as in God and Great Britain.

 

i know a person who tried to make it

mock itself, to disguise an ambition.

i know a person who thinks it will outlive

the exploring body, the inflated mind.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Empire of Smoke