Memories of a Coal-Miner’s Grandson
by Bryan D. Cook (Canada)
I spent my youthful summers in a mining town on the coal fields of Northumberland, the land of the geordies. I played soccer in the alley with lads destined to go down the pit. Miners hewed coal in the deeps below the North Sea, hauled in cages by a large wheel at the colliery head. They wore aprons on their backs to protect them from the low rock ceiling and to keep their trouser seats dry as they picked at the coal, seated on a cracket for leverage. Huge piles of pit slag spontaneously combusted like small volcanos.
lamps glow yellow
at the coal-face
the canary still sings
We lived in red-brick row terrace. My gran cooked our meals over a cast-iron coal range; granda’s clothes and aprons steam-dried above and we scrubbed to a glow in a tin tub beside the hearth. We feasted on griddle scones called singin’ hinnies, sluiced down with strong tea from the brown betty pot. Delivery of the one-ton miner’s allowance down the coal chute often woke me in the adjacent outhouse! Horse-drawn carts sold milk, meat and kippers, and took our rags and bones. We ran behind them collecting the horse droppings for granda’s allotment; he grew prize leeks, chickens, a summer pig, and gladiolas to decorate the kirk. Racing pigeon coops lined the fences. Sunday’s were rigorously Methodist.
in the alley
A life of little money, spent thriftily at the co-op. The pit siren wailed for widows. Ponies retired blind from a life of darkness. The Miner’s Union broke after many strikes; company towns bulldozed as pits closed. I still speak geordie!
in the Miner’s Arms
and black lungs
An (Cottage) Prize
by Judy Kendall (UK)
I’m a bit nervous. Perhaps, so is he. We had arranged to meet at Wigan Flashes – the nearest of his usual bird haunts to Salford Quays, where I no longer live, thus entailing a much lengthier journey from my new home of Todmorden.
Details of time and place to meet, of train arrivals, departures, directions, are numerous and precise, Too much so. The emails I look at now don’t help. They suggest we meet at the station but my memory of fending my way through industrial Wigan is strong. Did my train arrive late? Did he talk me along by phone? I recall a warning, it’s a bit industrial… don’t be surprised, but cannot find this in the emails. While searching, I accidentally send one to his now three-month dormant email address, and feel embarrassed, apologetic, and obliged to send another to explain the first – both addressed to a dead Martin who no longer accesses this account. Who else might? What would his password be: a bird? a series of numbers relating to total species for the year? Could be anything.
It is my first time in Wigan and I don’t feel encouraged. I don’t like finding my way without a proper map. So many buildings. He could have come to meet me. It’s further than I expect. Factories. Rubbish. At last I reach the canal. More rubbish. Not somewhere I’d feel safe alone. I am alone.
It doesn’t last. What does? Turn a corner and the countryside curves into view. Green. Verdant.
I don’t remember meeting Martin. I have a feeling it was by a bridge. I remember though his gentlemanliness. Carrying the ‘scope, the binoculars, bringing an extra pair for me, Well, he might have done that, he often did, but the emails reveal a friend lent me his pair for the occasion.
We circumnavigate the Flashes. Huge expanses of water. And such green land. Green is pinned in my memory – its contrast to the factory walls.
I see close up my first teal. And through the borrowed binoculars and Martin’s superior ‘scope I see many other birds. Clumsy at first, I get quite nifty with the bins, tracking birds as they fly. My embarrassment at my avian ignorance dissipates in direct proportion to my revelation of it. The need to pretend, to cover up, impress, shrinks and shrinks. We discuss colour and perception. Is the colour I see the colour you see? How do I know that? How do I not?
Rain. Chat with other birders. A long look at a paddling Slovonian grebe in the downpour. Very rare. Elegant bird. Sandwiches under cover – the cagoule? a hide? I seem to remember standing.
We part soaked. Martin to meet the warden for a guided walk. Me to drip on the trainseat home.
That evening, to jog your memory, in case you want to consult your book, he sends me a List of birds on shared walk, brackets around those I think only seen by me. There are forty two. He apologises for the atrocious weather, and invites me again,
I accept with alacrity, love for the List, and poetic gratitude
moving the binoculars
to the speed of a
An (Cottage) Prize
Come and See
by Sean O’Connor (Ireland)
My father is usually at the window when I arrive. The view from there is sparse, the blank wall of the dementia unit is only metres away. Between wall and window is a strip of tightly clipped lawn, two fragile young trees and some flowers.
they bloomed late this year
these bright yellow daffodils
Above the wall is enough sight of sky to judge the weather and so he feels confident to give me his forecast. It will or won’t rain, or it’s lovely out now, better get out in it as it won’t last. It’s only a pet day.
During visits he repeatedly shuffles around the bed to look outside. It took me a while to decipher his comments when at the window. ‘I thought there was one but there are two’, he said. ‘Always busy, always working away, especially in the morning.’
When a workman passed by this afternoon I asked my father if he was one of the workers he was talking about? ‘No no’, he said, ‘he’s the gardener, he’s a good worker too mind you. He’s always about the place – lots to do. The other two come and go, have to keep an eye out to catch them. They are usually here in the morning. One of them got a snail and was banging it off a stone for ages ‘till it broke.’
As I was about to leave, my father was back at the window when his face lit up. ‘There they are!’, he said. ‘Come and see.’
among fresh daisies
a blackbird and a thrush
my father’s new friends
An (Cottage) Prize
by Marcyn Del Clements (USA)
Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada
Once again on a rising tide we hit the fog at the third Narrows. We bounce into the wake of our lead jet boat, follow him through the maze of signals posts to weave out on the other side. Early light dusts a golden glow on the fog. As if lit from within. Only the radar/GPS screen knows where we are. No sign of The Wall, the Point, the Sound, only the wet fog beyond our boat’s wipers. When it finally lifts, and we can see the scarred cliff faces, we put the rods in, the down riggers humming quietly. We troll. I play my Native American flute. The song carries across flat water. And a salmon jumps three times.
across still water
cry of the mated pair
7 August 2018
An (Cottage) Prize
Seeing in Darkness
by Branko Manojlovic (Serbia/Japan)
I am typing this by the soft glow of a flameless, LED candle. Until a few minutes ago I sat in pitch darkness waiting for my son to fall asleep. Otherwise he wouldn’t have. At his age I was quite the opposite, unable to close my eyes at bedtime unless there was some kind of light source in the room. One of my earliest memories has me lying in bed at my grandma’s house, tucked in white sheets, gaze fixed on a chiffonier on top of which a wax candle flickered. This single, pathetic flame was my thoroughfare to the world of dreams, night after night. Grandma said she kept it on throughout the night in order to safeguard the premises from an ‘evil spectre’ – the very spectre, I supposed, whose absence allowed her to snore like a buzz-saw.
Grandma was a good, caring woman. But I never felt comfortable in that huge, draughty house of hers, repulsed by musty shadows lurking in every corner. I was particularly terrified of one enormous painting of St. Nicholas (family saint) which hung like a heavy weight above her bed. St. Nicholas’ eyes that no man, let alone child could outstare, they smouldered in what I took to be the saint’s inexplicable rage, as if set on all the world’s iniquities at once. I watched grandmother in her long, frothy nightgown, kneeling piously before the painting, reeling off a bedtime prayer. Once done, she was free to climb into her oversized, husbandless bed.
hunter in the shadows
lulling me to sleep
The following day, in broad daylight, everything looked different. No trace of that wavering, ill-lit gloom oozing out from every crack in the wall. No hint either of St Nicholas’ fierce, black pupils, terrorized and terrorizing. Come daytime, quite an ordinary saint in fact, his countenance a picture of humility and quiet resolve: anything but mysterious. No way, I thought, no way was this the same St. Nicholas of the previous night!
In daylight, at least, I was free to survey the picture’s finer details that had been obscured by last night’s dimness: a couple of sailboats, a tiny monastery by the saint’s feet, the golden-haired angels hovering like bees. ‘Until bedtime’, I’d finally say straight to St. Nicholas’ face.
shaped by dreams
a boy’s grimace