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October 2014, vol 10 no 3

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Meg Griffiths

Unspoken


A Welshman living in England, my father would revert to his 'mother-tongue' on occasional phone calls back to the homeland – but was generally a man of few words. Heavy and melancholic, he could use silence as punishment; weeks-long disapproving silence. He rarely expressed emotion, swallowed down perhaps in his beer, exhaled in smoke.

Entering his house alone after his death, I feel I enter his inner world.

in the fetid silence
his sagging chair
a full ashtray

His world after the death of my mother nine years previously had narrowed to their kitchen. With his packets of Marlborough, The Telegraph ('for the crossword'), head down, forearms resting on the Formica, there he would sit, smoke, drink tea, eat sometimes. Although we had 'family', mostly in Wales, and he knew 'people' in the pub, his thoughts he shared with no-one. I visited and phoned but knew it was never enough, could never be enough to fill the emptiness. That spare room for guests – who never came.

I remember him as always 'unwell' in some way, his pain focused on a leg wound suffered in the RAF in Egypt. His war experiences though were never referred to directly. Everything held in, everything saved. Piles of invoices, receipts, statements covering all surfaces.

wartime marriage
a lifetime
of gas bills

Once organised into piles by my mother, after her death the papers became static, a permanent feature. My turn to make sense of it all.

into six black sacks
sorting a legacy
I wish I could love

They are all dead now, the tight-lipped grandparents, the aunts and flat-capped uncles. All hill-farmers in simple homes on high moorland; bog and bramble making impossible more than the bare necessities. Sunday was Chapel but every day was milking, feeding and mucking out, churning, cheese-making, digging potatoes. Evenings the gathering around the range.

in weary silence
nodding together
another day westered

Belying earthly impoverishment, they lie now under shiny black marble. Gold-lettered.

And as I return to Wales, I become my father; withdrawn, melancholic, welcoming the rain which fits my mood.

home
to the Land of My Fathers
acres of bleak bog




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