Living in complicated times.

It was in this place, those days, those years

When rivers ran black as night in days

A night sky lit red by coke ovens doors

And green fields drowned in the spoil

It was in this place hunger and poverty

Stamped, slammed feet on the ground.

Children starved, slept empty mouthed

Soup kitchens feed families the hungry

This place where malnutrition and disease

Looked in at every door every open window

And men marched to great cities to plead

To beg for assistance in a time of great need.

Men marched the length, breadth of the land

But were met by the cold eyes of indifference

She told the stories of those days those years

And when it was her time to pack and leave

She was small, just fourteen years of age

She was a small child travelling as a stranger

In those long days of the great depression

Think of a child travelling from a valley

To live in a great bankers Chelsea mansion

She spoke of survival, the cruel vicious lips

The vindictive unsmiling eyed housekeeper

Just because she didn’t speak a word of Welsh.

She worked as a maid for a florin a few pennies

To send back home to her family in the valley

To support her parents, her brothers, her sisters

And she was like so many valley children

It’s that indifference to others suffering

That gives the lie to excuses of ignorance.

When the cruelty became too much to bare

She left to work in a Rabbi’s home

As a young nanny to the children

She recalled the words of kindness

The different foods and the music

Sophie Tucker’s My Yiddishe Mama

We would laugh when she danced

A mischievous smile, those dark brown eyes

The slow easy dance movements

Memories of happy days remembered.

And she would recount listening

To the stories of families from Germany

Who’d escaped and told their stories

Of the treachery,  the butchery of Crystal Nacht

Of the barbarity and disappearances

And the wearing of yellow star badges

Our country pretended it knew nothing

When people were fleeing for their lives

It’s that indifference to others suffering

That gives the lie to excuses of ignorance.

And so the war came as it was bound to

And my mother packed her belongings

Her furniture into an old Pickford’s van

To make her way back to the valley

To bring up her child while her man

Was recalled to serve, to do his soldiers duty

Over five long years fighting in others lands.

She stood with a red cross box on the square

And at night worked in the arsenal soldering

The fuses on bombs while the blitz flames

Lit the skies over Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea

One day she was called her man was returning

The village decked out with ribbons and bunting

But he was not the man he was before the war

His temper a short fuse and his hands heavy

And so he found himself again in the silence

The solace of growing in a high walled garden

He never spoke of the war, never those medals

They were kept in the black box under his bed

Along with everything else that came before.

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