By Jim Young
Text copyright© 2016 Jim Young
All Rights Reserved
The boy awakens outside the gate,
Eyes following the horizon's peeling layers
As he raises his sights across the vista
Of happy dereliction, home from home.
Step by step ventures an excited pal
Over and across and looking back.
Yes, further and further testing,
Big breath wide eyed tingling at
The daring, boundless as his days
Trodden paths, swept grass,
Led the way of footsteps before,
And now his tread trepidation will push
Against those self-same boundaries.
Grass to slag tips, ruins to rivers
And streams, and pools, for
There is as much wildlife here
As an explosive boy can chase.
As the people oscillate between parlour homes,
Church-chapel Sunday best, and the ruinous,
Ravenous desecration of the land. So does
The boy touch nature foot-sure on the slag.
The little beasties sit in the hand,
Others quick chasing, lunge to grasp.
Then the scurrilous big beasts look back.
You'll not catch me, but we can run together?
If you like? Said the lover of the land.
Say you will commune with me in thought and
Deed, for indeed we are the rulers of this day.
Telepathic in the soil we jig the Maypole,
Burrowing down deep to store away
For Autumn, the pollen of our play.
Skin of the land, sinew drawn over slag bone
Metamorphoses under our feet.
What was mapped yesterday, some hand has
Violated, we have to find another way
To there, where we were, and remap the
Speeding race tracks tilting
To the bed at the end of the day.
What is it in childhood that is so unique?
Yet common to all? That adults adulterate.
See it, feel it, from the chapel pulpit nuance,
To the mischief squinting around, spilling the
Cup that runneth over, with all the stops
Pulled out on the organ voluntary, that
Pokes decorum in the eye.
Kids know. There's no telling them.
They know there's no stopping them.
The village tries to contour
Childhoods from valley unto hill.
It tries and fails, as it always has.
Parents! They really are the limit!
Says the exasperated child,
As free as free can be,
Spinning, arms outstretched,
Hammering the summer sky.
Sure-footed on clinking slag slopes a boy-goat sprang,
Flew from one unsure foothold to another at speed.
Black shiny eyes wept frozen in the sharp slag or
Bled dry tears in the ochre cinders crunching underfoot.
Blue sky sunny laughter soothed to smiles the
Grimace of despair of the slip-hazard tips they teased.
A sulphurous miasma in yellow crystalline depths pulled
As it repelled the buzzing daredevil amour of youth.
Cancerous crustaceans gnarled hammer tongs at the valley
Yet failed to smother hope, for industrial insult had died.
No more Hades smoking chimneys, but a retinal glow
Replaced the old men's closing eyes with a blue blaze.
The voices were there of course, dead, they still whispered
With stone heartbeats halted mid thought finger raised to
Spin us around searching for the voice that dislodged
The keystone that sent the mirage tumbling down.
Harry the Sun
The morning bar pleads under the yoke of
Cold cigarette smoke, a shroud
On stale beer’s sweet cloy.
Downed last night the boozy high spirits,
Sprawl over drink stumbled chairs and sticky tables.
Pompeii halted on the catafalque’s still air, the apogee of
Bombastic repartee at stop-tap - last orders please!
No sign of life in this morning's bright light, for
In the night the moment has congealed.
The Grocers Shop
Howell the Shop
On a sanctuary seat in from the street
Sits a woman in gossip and queue.
Sunlight flows in, gossamer warm,
Caressing the repartee that's ticking lists
Fecund, drawn down from pregnant shelves.
Diamond-honed the bacon slicer sings
And rashers land like linen on a greaseproof sheet.
The peg-wire garrotes a rind round cheese,
Fast wrapped bloodless with a magician's deceit.
The cold room vault snatches shut
On a final catch, and a flitch of bacon trails
Its soul, falling in a cold mist across the floor.
Short, rotund in overall grey the shopkeeper scrawls
Illegible bills, please pay at the end of the week.
The door jerks, the bell irritates, ladies glide in and out,
The baton of gossip has passed on,
Next please shuffles forward in the queue.
Ivor the Coal
The coalman commensal in every home
Plods through when the coal shed's low.
Black face masked with a shiny patina
Of coal dust, soulful eyes, belied by
An axolotl smile, languid in the grime.
Bent to the load he grunts in code as
He counts the sacks off his leather
Shoulder-piece that shines brighter
Than the chalk stirrup of a mating ram.
Newspapers line the floor from door to door as
Into the green Anderson shelter they go.
Best nuggets hard for hard winter nights.
But the question begs,
Is there a man outside this cameo?
The Oil Man
Deaf and dumb in his plain van, his grunted
Gestures séance between two worlds.
Pale, olive-skinned, with the shiny pallor
Of all men doomed to die.
With brass taps turned, into the tundish flows
Paraffin for heaters, oil for lamps, dispensed
From genie vats deep inside the van.
A heavy aroma lurks just beyond recall.
Where he comes from? Nobody knows.
Where he goes to? No one knows.
James the Milk
First there was the dairy, James the Milk,
All jugs and white walls, marble slabs.
Proud churns on guard outside.
Then he closed to the milk float burring along,
Bottles bickering in the crates of dawn.
But the local dairy was where the farm mud
Met its match, and fields yielded the harvest
For our breakfast table. In respect
The countryside and village leant shoulder
To shoulder, merging man to land.
Shall the last be first for this nameless gnome,
Deep in the gloom of his cobweb home?
Or is his last, the last of the few?
Sprigs tight lipped he hammers,
Fixing soles for souls. The barest nod of understanding
As your repairs are placed on his bench.
The aroma of leather and polish from shoes
Resplendent on the shelf.
Back out into the daylight, for this world
Is his, and his alone.
Tap, tap, tap ...
Ernie had the sweet shop.
In the pantheon of Gods supreme.
Two ounces of these, a quarter of those,
Always fulfilled our dreams.
Sherbet fountains, liquorice, lucky bags,
Love hearts, parmaviolets, bubble gum,
Lollipops, gob stoppers - Stop! Stop!
Enough pleasure from this den.
For he also sold the Beano and the Dandy,
Beezer, Topper too.
Bastions of humour where a child
Could retreat from worlds of woe.
But Ernie he had diabetes,
Went blind as we watched,
As he fingered his watch,
To tell the time of day.
Then as children do, we blinked a bit,
Po-faced across the counter.
Then we were off clutching our comics,
Sure in their embrace.
Then one day, he was not there,
Poor Ernie had died - still never mind!
Someone else proffered our sherbet Beano,
So all's well in our sticky finger world.
The magic veil of childhood,
As thick or thin as the mood demands.
In those halcyon days a magic rare indeed.
The Empty Shop
Elijah's shop was a netherworld.
My mum sent me there for bread,
Once a week, I think, just to give him trade.
The windows were screened,
The inside dark with gloom,
The smooth wooden counter empty,
As was the shop, this room.
Turn back to Elijah, a friendly old man
With right hand forever flexed,
Wrist broken in the womb.
What he sells I do not know, but
On the shelf are Ali Babba urns,
Painted green with lids and numbers writ in gold.
Time here seems suspended, the shop
Backs away, fading as it goes.
I think he sold potatoes, but of this I'm sure,
He wrapped the bread in paper, his club wrist
As a tool. He did not seem to mind at all,
So I accepted that it was his lot.
He was a friendly chap - I think he had a wife.
I know he had pigs in a compound behind the shop.
The essence of Elijah's, eludes me to this day.
Dust right through my fingers, and as I turn away,
It settles on the quiet room, bedding down
For a long, long sleep.
Shop coat light brown pencil line moustache,
Stub pencil behind his ear, John stands tall. For all
The world outside is on his shelves, so the question must
Be asked and answered with a tight lip smile, have you got ...?
Away into the back of store deep his steps retreat, then
Silence! No sound crosses time - just silence.
Then, a faint footstep Doppler teases, and it approaches.
There you go, that's what you need, agreed?
And the balance of parallel universes is re-established,
For two and six the nugget is in the paper bag.
Brown bag of course, like the hessian sacks
Of corn stacked on the floor. And maple seeds and other
Mixes for the pigeon fanciers winning concoction.
The seeds spill through fingers and the colour speaks
Of sunny harvests and pigeons exploding from lofts
Like snipe in the sunshine, kingfishers skimming streams.
To stand in John Shops spoilt for choice,
It is the stuff of dreams.
The Rag and Bone Man
Rag bone, rang bone ... rang 'n' bone.
If you missed the words, you'll get the tone.
No longer to make glue; it was once, I'm told,
But for scrap metal to the dealer borne.
The horse plodded, gee up boy it plodded,
From times of yore, or so it seemed.
The horse nodded, and Con nodded, the cart nodded,
On and on, piled high with this and that.
Shiny reins the whole scenario was resplendent
Floating through the village slowing right down.
Red checkered neck-cloth, open shirt,
Ruddy cheeks from sun long days and
Evening pints glinting in his eye.
His Song of Songs: “anyeee old iron”,
Was a javelin back in time.
Many a galvanised bucket rang to the horseshoes
As the spade scooped up the steaming splat,
The perfume of the ages was carried across the mat
To our runner beans and peas.
The village rang to all walks of life.
They coloured our life that's for sure.
The Coffin Maker
Down a lane in a small stone building
Hiding in plain sight, worked an ancient man.
With a peaches and cream complexion
He nodded us enter in.
Backs against the stone wall we hush,
Hush watched his aged hands turn their skill.
Sawdust and shavings on the floor,
Saws and chisels above the bench,
He adds a finish to two polished coffins,
Brass handles shinning propped against the wall.
Contented in his place he skillfully constructs
The inevitable receptacle of everyone’s travail
To no avail, but what a beautiful finish.
The Board Man
A mythical figure? A mother’s fright for recalcitrants?
There was a board man in her days,
Who shepherded truants back to solitary desks.
But now a figment of maternal malevolence
Conflated with the Beagle, now who would ask for more!
The rabid concatenation of thoughts in the mind of a child.
But overarching all lesser demons was the Black Maria!
The wagon to take you in. Down into hell it sounded like,
But off to the police station in fact.
Although long gone, the fear remained.
All the fear structures of a mother’s childhood,
Extracted slowly from her shadows and slotted into mine.
For unto the next generation.
Bishop the Bobby
The local policeman was real enough.
Straight laced Bishop, strict but with a
Benevolent smile when backs were turned.
A reassuring presence in the corner of a mischief eye.
There was another policeman ... Mr. Ussia!
Who was spoken of in whispers of trepidation.
A right a so and so! But conflated in my mind,
Absurdly, with Russia, and therefor rush you in.
A gyrating vortex of anxiety best treated by a flight
Across the meadows at full pelt.
Catch me if you can - naah, naah, la naah, naah!
The bus plods into the square root of the village,
Instantly snaps the event horizon and the
Outside collapses. Gotcha! sets the scene.
There can be no outside now.
The singularity of mind conflates church with chapel,
Shop women with pub men. If you dare?
Rough slag bouldered roads black bleed
The terrace houses. Exsanguinated, the
Stone and mortar precipitates white in the
Grimy brook-drain ruins-of-men, as they
Worm their way under the railway that
Carves the village from the tips.
Slicing indoor warmth from slag's frozen tears.
Squealing nails on slag glass pulls away.
Gone the summer scorched bather boys.
Falls dark the winter evenings, where the
Hello, halos? Of the street light bobbies
Beckon the boys of shadow face to face.
Snows swirl closer to firesides dreaming of
March winds that will set the grass boys
Running, stitch-sided, gasping, tumbling
To the ends of their sap.
The kaleidoscope of images dazzles.
The aspic nostalgia cracks open,
Dead villagers dance the Nutcracker.
Chuff, chuff, chuff, chuff the trains below,
Prod those lying abed this frosty morning.
Rescinding sh, sh, sh, sh, sh, as
The wheels spin on the icy lines.
This cold steel rapier pierces a winter's day.
Whoooooo says the works hooter,
Men to the early shift right away.
The milk float stops humming.
The bottles bicker in galvanised crates.
The valley yawns to the feral purr of heavy industry,
Close and clear on a frosty morning but
How far on a summer's day?
But when Sunday mornings sleep like a sermon,
To be walking through the heather on Kilvey hill,
Above the peals of the church bells,
With the wind bantering in your ears,
Is to be closer to heaven than restlessly
Riding the organ voluntarily in the church below.
A lullaby on the wind rustles through
The long dry grass, and cradled to the hill,
We hear whispers of childhoods, long, long ago.
School bells falling into lines.
Metallic footfall on the bus.
Horse and cart shoes on the road
That syncopate with the riddle-call
Of the rag and bone man.
Merry mumbling from the pub windows,
Late into the evening.
The scoop, tap tapping the golden chips,
Somersaulting back in time.
Privet moth mannequins,
White silk - black tie,
Jiggling like puppets in the twilight
Of a conversation across the
Hedge of a summer's evening.
The scent of privet flowers haunts the
Ghost of a breeze.
Oh my dear, dear Pentrechwyth.
Where are you now?
Oh do come back.
Please … please.
Nostalgia for me today.
I was tomorrow for them.
I will be just a memory.
Wandering in this verse.
As the vortex of the boys of morning,
Wrinkle grit in the eyes of dawn,
Impish smiles smirk slowly back
From the face of a fateful plan.
Ducking the jabs of retribution,
Daring preens wild wings on heels,
Away they go, as only they know how,
Flying down the boy's own fields.
Bursting geysers high, nailed in the thigh, of
Lead pipes laid to hand, or
Pancake pennies under express trains
That ears to the hammering line demand.
Astride slingshots that lamplights out
Careering in dereliction daring.
With frisson set in widening eyes
Wild arcs of rainbow flaring.
Adventure tested the boys,
Grazed dry with blood and tears,
Plod played-out home for supper.
The paper chase has spun them down,
And they are done, as their day is done,
But what have you done?
You naughty, naughty, boys!
No mind now cariad, my bachgen bach,
Cwtch you down, cwtch you down.
When a house grows smaller as a boy grows taller
Introversion and extroversion meld
Translucent, and the glowing walls recede.
A child forces order on the days, where
This goes here, and that goes there.
For an eternal game's afoot.
Every corner whispers of yesterday,
Spinning the silk of tomorrow,
Crocheted by his hands from the pulse of stones.
Warm-walled in maternal mortar.
Coal grit on the fading carpet bites his knees at play.
As the chimney's azure genie grandiloquently enters,
Hesitates, and retreats with a curtsy as the flue inhales.
The Westminster chimes pall his play,
And he feels the time of day, for
Mum's in the kitchen cooking, stirring,
Dad's at the kettle bowl washing away,
The grime of work, scum cold in soapy water.
He settles back dressed with an attitude for dinner.
Later, as the newspaper slips through his fingers,
He nods, he sighs, as the fire snores.
The aspic parlour belies a squalor that could be
Residing here, if the dark façade's deceit were true.
But from room to untidy room this house is home
It kiss-cuddles, swaddling deep.
Far from the coal store under the stairs, or
The scullery mice scuttling away,
The fireside toast is branded on the fork and tea
Tethers to the bright red hearth,
But up to bed he has to go.
To a hedgehog curling bed, cold, peeking out at the
Dark shapes shivering in the icy moonlight.
The long day exhales, sliding slowly away,
Dreaming down and away ... down and away.
Where sits a house in a village of houses, or in
A terrace such as Rifleman's Row?
What do the faces in the little windows see?
Or the gossiping doors entertain?
Well, stand at the dilapidated valley gate,
Where impudent slag tips stare black,
And the howling hooter’s call to work,
Will surely set the scene.
Across the river valley
The mirror terraces agree.
For as the feet on fingerprint slab-stones
Ply to chapels, churches, shops, and schools,
Upon the slag dashing river frothing,
Stands a village,
Heavy gate opens, slow, gaits our steps to enter the Parthenon.
Church mouse grasses shawl dry shrubs to kiss Gethsemane.
Towering varnished doors asunder the warm walled stones, and as
Mothball ladies glove their stoles, the dark suited sons of sin steal in.
The vestibule where polished deacons backhand books of
Hymns and common prayer, to bid us sit on left or right hand
Of God's chapel pews that fidget hard on woodblock floors.
Or drawn up to the petticoat balcony's crinoline curtsey,
Upheld by concupiscent pillars that hitch their golden garters high.
Stale air stills and light beams stall, hushed upon the pulpit deacons.
Until the silver fag-end organ pipes moan through their missing teeth
To stiffen sinews of chins jutting to high heaven help us now.
Riding the pulpit high, exalted nigh heaven’s red carpet stairs,
Leaning into the reading light that lies limp on a dusty carafe,
The vicar's exhalation rests his hand upon our shoulders.
From the deacon's parsimonious bench, absent handed flowers
Bounce the words to fall upon the beveled benches where, in
Numbered pews the congregation lean into their dying light,
And draw down early evening thoughts unto the night.
Poor lives congregated in a hushed requiem for their Eden
Fervently wait and wait for the icy Lazarus to yawn.
With a ruffling of angel wings we sit, we stand, upon command.
A burial chamber of souls in awful awe are we.
Here endeth! Thumps the bible, and the lectern shivers the supplicants.
The chapel slumbers with one ptotic eye upon our village.
It sees all week the prize we seek as we eke out a living.
The chapel's benevolence in such events stands warm
And turns its eye from pints and smoke, and bars and joke,
Where men lay down their yoke, to speak of other things.
When gossip gossips all day long and fire nights beside,
The chapel smiles on all of those whose hearts entwine, or
Crash upon it, rock in a stormy sea, and cling to it appealing.
It invites you walk in, begs you talk in, and to pray for
Better things, where thoughts take wings, and everybody
Bears each other's griefs and grime in time never ending.
A paternalistic chapel’s anchor chain village to heaven.
Boys knocking nature about,
Kicking the clods, squashing the beetles,
Slingshots drawing the birds to earth and
Shotguns the rabbits down.
The death of beasties is not all beastly.
To kids they simply died.
But the death of people
Was a halting nuance, that
Once drawn, was forever out of Eden.
But the first mortalities were not people
But signal boxes, engine sheds, capsized ships,
Favourite trees and treehouse dens.
They touched the heart much more than
The quick and the dead.
The first indication that internal feelings had
Thought-strings tied to
Anchor points, that when displaced
Cast adrift regrets,
Alone in a cold, cold sea.
Pity to the rescue is sailing way behind.
A metal line post fell on a boy's head.
He was never "right in the head" afterwards.
The man with the withered hand.
The man in grey overalls with a club foot.
The man with a permanent wry neck.
All in the arm lock of a vindictive mind
That twisted people and childhood’s innocence.
Time to play truant from life.
The faster you run,
The more precarious your trajectory,
The more acute your ricochet from boulder to boulder,
The better to blow away such mortal memes.
Then Grandpa died,
And I touched his cold forehead
And wondered at his relaxed features.
Stood by his grave as the sexton tolled his bell.
Death was inside me now and would never vacate.
You lived with death, and the gap between one's co-existence
With the Valley and the Valley's percolating effect on your life slowed.
Grandpa said on his death bed
"I would rather be out of it than live like this".
He died the next day.
And grown men cried.
But on death I have no opinion.
The nights draw in closer and closer
To the night. Guy Fawkes!
Boys swirl in his dark cape
In the shadow of a shadow,
Flowing along the flotsam,
A smoldering mob in the
Pursuit of firebrands.
Burning, wild wide eyes, then narrowing
Down the alleyways of trembling nights.
Hunter-gather hearts pounding as they pounce
Upon a tar-soaked railway sleeper fast asleep.
Army ants carry it away - doomed.
Settees, arm chairs, carpets, trees and bushes.
Up and up the fire dry mound grows
The pyre of their possession.
The touch paper advance or retreat?
Of a lighted firework at the edge of danger.
Light the blue touch paper and step well back.
Like hell! Throw it, throw it!
Horizontal rockets in stupidity laughed and
Laughed as Catherine wheels gyrated to the
Jacky jumpers screaming sabre dance.
Bangers in bottles, devil up the drainpipe.
Oh boys stop! Stop! Time to build a guy.
To sit on the top of the pyre,
But hawked malevolently "penny for the guy".
Outside the pub was a good spot,
When merry gentlemen were off to their God rest,
The urchin-eyed supplicants, dragging sagging guys,
Plucked at the heartstrings of Bacchus,
And nicotine hands fumbled deep in the pockets of
Sagging damp trousers to mumble a pile of coins
Into their outstretched hands. "Oh thank you mister"
Rang cheers that beer-abeded the goodnight men.
Guys Fawkes bonfires burnt the stars out,
Filled the clouds with the midnight sun.
Valley-side bonfires of varying sizes defy,
But ours is the biggest in all the
Whole. Wide. World!
Arms swing in expressive arcs, huge like, see!
Up go the fireworks, trailing smoke and cordite.
Boy, oh boy! It was good one this year,
And the fire dies down,
Spent, the glow fades away.
Eyes smart tears to the star in the east.
The wise men, the shepherds watching their flocks by night.
And the hope of new bikes for all.
Highlights of the year are spinning faster and faster
Towards a cold Lang Syne.
Christmas expectation scintillates all time’s children.
No shops open, no work, silence.
Abed this Christmas Eve waiting awake,
Awake, awake, but sleep steals away,
To startle dawn with the Dandy and Beano,
Burrowing rich down in my own bed of fun.
It is! It’s Christmas Day! All’s well.
Nativity in the chapel.
We three kings of orientarr,
A hot sticky road in China?
The word still winks at me.
Thyme cigar smoked to Boxing Day,
Satiated fireside armchair snores.
But there is something sad in the air,
That is squeezing the cold year tired out.
A pregnant pause, old man,
The child of time is due.
The minute hand says now, and the
Westminster chimes peal melancholy.
Trespassing on the valley’s pristine hoar
We listen, listen!
The work's hooters start howling at the moon,
Then the train whistles pierce the frosty air,
And slowly the barrel-chested ship's hooters
Pour dolefully over Kilvey hill,
To welcome in the new year.
Long bones ache in the cold of old.
Falling back in mind, and drawing up
The portcullis in the eye,
The vaults of time stir slowly, and slowly
The boy’s own time steps out.
I have fallen in love again.
With the people and the village.
Is that an old man's construct?
Is that why these rhymes from other times,
Have such an effect on me?
For when these verses are recited,
Drawn across the years,
My love for them,
And them for me,
Will be lovingly requited.
For it is they, from then,
That are in here depicted.
It is they that give life to these words,
However well they're crafted.
Their entreating eyes stare back at me,
Held safe within these pages.
I have given them life again
As they give life to me.
This is my love letter.
To my Pentrechwyth.
Everyone, everywhere, can be there
With me, where I was.
And feel as I did?
But feet holding to the slag,
Grappling with the dereliction,
Spinning around and around,
Laughing at the blood of
A grazed impertinence
Of the valley head to head.
That has to be felt.
The lie of the land,
Careering breakneck, bouncing
Off the day, and when the day is over
Relying on the village to caress.
The permutations are as infinite
As the words.
The emotion of feeling, yes.
But not the physical feeling.
Not the touch of the slagstone,
Not the spinning wheels.
Yet, to move through the environment as
My words pour forth, is to get closer
To the truth.
To be there is enough?
They walk past us,
Where the tips were and are no more,
But the people have changed.
But to be there, there with my words,
There with the people,
And the emotions, is enough?
For you are not young, as we were young.
If your gift is to regress,
To hear my words with the ear of a child
In this place, then maybe you are a poet.
But time still twists.
For a child sees things with a child's eye.
The man who thinks as a child,
Interprets as a child, hearing the words of
The man who talking of childhood
Interprets as a child.
The loop is infinite?
Talk back your words from my words and
We may get back to where we started.
But your words will have changed my memories,
Will change my words.
So the permutations are infinite?
Words will never, ever be enough?
Unless, of course, you were there with me.