Friday, 21 October 2016

First Television: A Poem to Remember Aberfan

By Kevin McMahon

50 years ago today, on 21 October 1966, a mountain of coal waste collapsed in a lethal avalanche into a school and houses in the village of Aberfan in Wales. 144 people, including 116 children, were killed. I wrote this poem in remembrance of those who died, and those who bore and still bear the grief of the Aberfan disaster.  

A poem

Photo: Danielclauzier (licensed under CCA). 
21 October 1966

Excitement welled like an unseen spring,
That last day before the half-term break.
With skies dark and thick as coal sludge, 
The rain – for the second day that week – 
Had left us trapped in classrooms
Behind high, steamed and streaming windows.
I ached for the release of the evening bell.
Lessons ambled past my reverie,
Anticipating Bilko’s antics,
Concocting Oxo-family tableaux, 
A cocoon of laughter, where Michael Miles 
Presided over “Yes-No interludes”.

Unleashed by school’s end we ran,
A yelping avalanche splitting the gloom.
A knot of women huddled sombre at the gate,
Heads scarfed against the rain, in quiet talk.
Blushing at my mother’s long embrace,
And pulling at the hand that gripped my own –
With more than usual tightness – 
I rattled out my plans, my hopes,
As she palmed the raindrops from her face.

It sat, intruding on the normal,
On splayed and spindly legs,
Chairs, newly shifted to strange places,
Shrank the little parlour.
Its unfamiliar light transformed
Our faces, pallid as we watched 
A silent throng of mothers 
Where the gates had been,
Heads scarfed against the rain. 
They stood and stared at rooftops
Protruding from the spoil,
And waited for their children.

Photo 'Condensation on a Window in Wexford, Ireland', by Danielclauzier (licensed under CCA). 
Text: © Kevin McMahon
Kevin has been a member of Manchester Irish Writers since 1998 – with a few years’ absence due to work commitments prior to his retirement!  He has contributed to the group’s publications “The Retting Dam”, “Stones of the Heart” and “Changing Skies”, and regularly performs at the group’s events.  He is a former winner of the “New Writing” award at Listowel Writers’ Week in Country Kerry, and has been shortlisted for a number of other awards for memoirs and short stories.  With Alrene Hughes, Kevin co-edited the publication of monologues arising from the “Changing Skies” project.  His scripts have been professionally performed in various venues, and he has had poetry broadcast on the BBC.

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