I’m a Welsh poet, living in a small market town near to the small cathedral city of St. David’s and to Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse. My career teaching in schools and colleges included acting as professor to exchange students over in Wales from the Central College of Iowa. I am currently exploring the poetry scene in the USA, with publications in journals like the San Pedro River Review, Common Ground Review and Red River Review.
A Postcard from Milford Haven
“O hear us when we pray to thee
for those in peril on the sea.”
Those stormy mornings, we’d sing that hymn.
The fathers of many of the school
were out there, trawlers taut against
the seas of Finisterre, Tiree. And,
as the singing swung into the heaves
and hollows of its verse, my blunt
neck-hairs tingled with the sharing of
fear. Those men would ship Atlantic seas,
hake, cod and herring, nets of fish, splash
prize in to the hold, into the dock,
and later drink, play dominoes, for days,
in the Alma, the Kitchener, the Heart of Oak.
Other times, during a trip, in Segadelli’s,
whose warm café tables looked out
across the dock and out to sea,
the women would scent storm, and,
like the clouds, they’d gather, cluster, mutter.
King George the Sixth is Dead
At the classroom door, a lank-haired boy,
the errand runner, blushed and blurted,
Please, sir, the King’s dead.
We stiffened, sifted this, for some of us
our first experience of death. The King?
We knew nothing of Bertie, the stammerer,
the cigarettes, the shadowed lungs, mortality.
We’d glimpsed on coins and newsreels a vision
of a profound benignity. Bertie was something
(and something very important) called The King.
Our heroes, cleft-chinned men, exploring
men, dug picks in ice-floes, declared
for King and Country. Flags swished,
trumpets shouted, whole pages’ width
in atlases glowed red. We were safe and happy
in the wealth of all we didn’t know.
The lank-haired lad, his message spent,
closed the door on so much. Doors would open soon
on other factions, schisms and broken promises.
For only a little while longer could we really feel
that if you were clean and good and sang
God Save the King before you duffed the bully,
life would roll over like a friendly dog, obey
the cheery whistle of your cleft-chinned self.
In summer, the vacation jobs.
I worked out back for a butcher,
talked daily to Roy’s father, Dougie,
as his cleaver ripped havoc
through a side of beef, his fag
poised so still that accumulating
ash grew to a two-inch airship,
before it was flicked to the sawdust.
Roy was at Oxford, finals year,
and daily, Dougie spoke of this, always
cutting, slicing joints, fag akimbo.
For a week dons deliberated and
Dougie sliced and cut, until the day,
out back, he told me, nodding
against the fag’s acrid drift,
He got it. In place, the mark lists,
a Second for a boy from Pembrokeshire,
and for a man of middle age
a soul’s unspeakable elation.
He got it, Dougie said again,
flicking aside a shaft of superfluous ash.
These poems first appeared in the author’s chapbook, Merlin’s Lane (Prolebooks, 2011).
© 2017 Robert Nisbet
© 2017 Robert Nisbet
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