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Thomas Phelps

(July 4th 1934 / Tynewydd, Rhondda valley, South Wales, U.K.)

They would do it again

Heading up the hill, wondering if it still holds memories
or whether these have disappeared, never to return.
He will soon learn whether the past times
have gone, even from his mind.
What will he find when he reaches the top?
Can't stop now, has to continue, has to see the view.

At last it appears... the valley floor.
There's more of it than there was before.
More space, more green than used to be seen.
No smoke, no noise, no trucks.
No suspended buckets carrying waste, without haste.
No black, no collieries, lots more trees
and coal tips, hidden by 'joking' grass
which does not deceive the remembering eyes,
for underneath, the evidence lies.

They removed the stack and the winding-wheel.
Sealed the hole into which the men dropped.
Dropped daily, in a cage, in that coal mining age.
He sees the scars where the street used to be.
The nearest street to the colliery.
From the marks on the ground, his memory
re-builds the street, for his mind to see.
The slate-roofed, white-lime-backed row.
That's how it looked, not all that long ago.

Each stone built house, the same.
Each stone-built home, different.
Sink? Out the back, by the hanging tin bath.
Toilet? Down the garden, down the long path.
Each scrubbed-front-stepped, home-cooking smelling
house full of memories, house full of love.
Not sloppy, film-star love, but, 'she'll be there when I get home
with the kettle boiling', type of love.

He sees, hears and feels the community, now long gone.
'Sees' the men going home with 'working clothes' on.
Front door key, inside on a string, as is the custom.
He may not love his neighbors, but he can trust them.
They had so much that was special in their hard lives.
He wonders, did they realize?

She must have had the colliery noises in her head always.
All through the nights, all through the days.
She must have been the first to know something was wrong.
Bad news did not take long.
She must have been the first to pray on that awful day,
'Surely to God, not one of mine.'
How many went through the mental
stress of the mining wife in the 'good old days'?

The good old days? Perhaps, in some ways.
At least they had work, they felt like men.
And I think, they would do it again.
They would not want a life of unemployment.
They got no enjoyment from idleness, the soul-rotter.
'A man has got to have work', they would say,
'Work he is not ashamed to admit to, man's work'.
Those chauvinists, our God-fearing ancestors
would go, because they knew that unemployment festers.

They would go again, take their great grandsons
where they didn't want their sons to go.
Where they said no man should have to go.
Those men who respected life itself,
remembered now by a brass miner's lamp on a mantle shelf.
They would enter the cage and bring back the mining age,
because to them, the alternative would be no way to live.

If they could come back, those men, they would do it again.

Submitted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013

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