‘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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Prayer by Anna Akhmatova

Grant me years of sickness and fever;

make me sleepless for months at a time.

Take away my child and my lover

and the mysterious gift of rhyme.

As the air grows ever more sultry,

this is the prayer I recite:

and may the storm cloud over my country

be shot through with rays of light.

 

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(11 May 1915, Day of the Holy Spirit), St Petersburg

translation by Robert Chandler

The Island by R. S. Thomas

And God said, I will build a church here

And cause this people to worship me,

And afflict them with poverty and sickness

In return for centuries of hard work

And patience. And its walls shall be hard as

Their hearts, and its windows let in the light

Grudgingly, as their minds do, and the priest’s words be drowned

By the wind’s caterwauling. All this I will do,

 

Said God, and watch the bitterness in their eyes

Grow, and their lips suppurate with

Their prayers. And their women shall bring forth

On my altars, and I will choose the best

Of them to be thrown back into the sea.

 

And that was only on one island.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

The Sundial by Gillian Clarke

Owain was ill today. In the night

He was delirious, shouting of lions

In the sleepless heat. Today, dry

And pale, he took a paper circle,

Laid it on the grass which held it

with curling fingers. In the still

Centre he pushed the broken bean

Stick, gathering twelve fragments

Of stone, placed them at measured

Distances. Then he crouched, slightly

Trembling with fever, calculating

The mathematics of sunshine.

 

He looked up, his eyes dark,

Intelligently adult as though

The wave of fever taught silence

And immobility for the first time.

Here, in his enforced rest, he found

Deliberation, and the slow finger

Of light, quieter than night lions,

More worthy of his concentration.

All day he told the time to me.

All day we felt and watched the sun

Caged in its white diurnal heat,

Pointing at us with its black stick.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)