‘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.

A Carol for the Coalfields by Idris Davies

From the moors of Blaen Rhymni down to the leaning wall

Of Caerphilly Castle you shall hear the same accents

Of sorrow and mirth and pride, and a vague belief

That the future shall be greater than the past.

 

The man in the Rhondda Valley and the man in Abertillery

Have shared the same years, the same days of hope and desolation,

And in Ogmore Vale and in Ammanford both old and young dream

That the future shall be greater than the past.

 

On the ragged hills and by the shallow polluted rivers,

The pious young man and the old rascal of many sins,

The idealists and the wasters, all sometimes believe and say

That the future shall be greater than the past.

 

Mothers praying for sons away in the wars, and mothers waiting

On doorsteps and by firesides for men coming home from the pits,

And the old folks bent and scarred with years of toil, all sometimes hope

That the future shall be greater than the past.

 

Last night the moon was full above the slag heaps and the grave-yards

And the towns amongst the hills, and a man arose from his dream

And cried out: Let this day be sufficient, and worthy of my people

And let the night winds go on wailing of the future and the past.

 

by Idris Davies

Industrial Museum by Mike Jenkins

For Adrian Mitchell

 

Hello and welcome to our industrial museum.

 

On your right there’s a slag-heap reclaimed…

a hill… another slag heap…

that one shaped as a landing-pad

for bird-like hang-gliders.

 

Notice the pit-wheels perfectly perserved

where you can buy mementoes

of the Big Strike and eat authentic cawl

at an austere soup-kitchen.

 

There mummified miners cough and spit

at the press of a button

and you can try their lungs on

to a tape-recording of Idris Davies’ poems.

 

That rubble was a 19th century chapel,

that pile of bricks an industrial estate.

The terraced houses all adorned

in red, white and blue as if royalty were visiting.

 

See how quaint the wax models

of women are, as they bow in homage

to polished doorsteps, the stuffed sheep

at the roadside give off a genuine odour.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Invisible Times