This Place by Rob Cullen

This place seems like a skeleton now
Bones of an ossified stone fossil giant
Bones left exposed eroded of meaning
Everywhere I look there are remnants.

Fragments of what was here before
And memories of people’s stories told
Echo through the land. Those stories
Told and told again not knowing the reason.

Stories handed down, stories handed on
I was a small child then and so young
Painful to know that the stories once told
Are no longer whispered only that silence.

And that I am the bearer, the holder
Of stories of this place and its people,
Of the memories of people, their names,
Of what happened to them on that day.

Where they came from, what came before
I listen to the emptiness to the silence
Of the tides of so many days, over years
Over ages on ages, and those memories.

Of stories chiming like muffled cracked bells
Of lost chapels and those pointed steepled
Churches hidden by endless waves of sand
Waves of shifting toiling seas and oceans.

Raging seas where there are no seas now
But the yellowed dulled sands surround
In the pennant grey stoned terraced streets
Built from sands of layered ancient strands.

Seven thousand men embroiled in the coil
Of the straggled four legged pithead gear
Seven thousand men above and far below
Invisible strong women worked the brick ovens.

The black faced miner sits at an opened door
A wire bound chopped stick block at his feet
He watches children play in quiet streets
And waits for the long tin bath to be filled.

The clip clop clip of the pop shed girls
Walking at dawn in clogs to their work
The horse carts of coal, milk and bread
The telegram boy bringing bad news again.

Our people were migrants one and all
Travelling to dig the coal and make the rich richer
The rich left us without a penny or a stick
Just the ruins, the bones and those memories.

But we made a richness of our lives too
Artists colouring out the black and blue
Those actors Baker, the Houston brothers
Sounds of hymns, bread of heaven choirs.

The spark of vitality and vibrancy
A response to adversity and hardship
A kind of craziness, a larger than life
Way of coping with unremitting harshness.

And those memories, the myths of our people
Stories of who they were, their names
The endless warnings always foretold
Of loss, sudden deaths and disasters.

The sight of a Robin in the pit below
The foretelling of death. Who knows of this now?
Or the silent welcoming gathering of cats
At the closed curtain of a front room.

Where an ailing soul lies quietly waiting
For that cold time of the wolf’s call
When silence soothes and they are taken
Loosening the grasp that held them to this life.

That time, that echoing hour between two
And three when coldness eases sorrow
And here now then in a time with a past
That has lost meaning ghosts stand.

Forgotten your snap box don’t go back
To fetch it, don’t be late so that someone
Takes your place and is killed in the space
That you and only you should have filled.

Remember the blond boy setting fire
To the Picturedrome on the Square
Caught hiding in the loft of the Granary
And taken away never to be seen again.

And the stables where blank eyed pit ponies
Were brought to heal and recover in the sun
And the smell of light green meadow hay
And the stench of straw steaming manure.

Or that doorway pierced by the bayonet
Of one of Churchill’s steel eyed troops
Taking exception to old Mrs May gathering
Milk bottles from her scraped slate doorstep.

Or Nancy Boy Lewis’s corner grocery store
Ex copper six foot six polished size six shoes
Who’d short change you with a toothy smile
So you’d learn again to count your change.

And poor Mansell taking up his station
Directing the slow traffic at the junction
Where the busses stopped on the Square
And after too many accidents taken away too.

And old “Digger Young” who gathered
Small coal from the spoil of the tips
And his fight with the dead at the door
From such stories legends are made.

And Mr Christmas the foundling child
Left Christmas day at the Workhouse gate
He lived worked and died in the Hospital
In the same place he’d been found.

The sprawling brawling drunken fights
After the Dog and Muff closed its doors
On a Saturday night. Men fighting over
Who’d said what about the other’s girlfriend.

And who was caught with another boy’s
Girlfriend behind Lloyd the Milk’s stables
Women rolling round pulling lumps of hair
All over Johnny. Somethings are timeless.

Have we become aimlessly weakened?
Green stemmed saplings unable to withstand
The cold snap of the hardest ice age
And the frost cold blades of austerity.

Or are we distracted by the green glow
Of the constant in hand mobile screen?
By celebrities endless preening for the prize
Of a mind numbing dumbing mediocrity?

And that constant quiet seeping away
Of the young who will never return
We raise swallows that never fly back
It is the blight that has afflicted this place.

Do these memories have any relevance?
Should they be left to fall like Autumn leaves?
Have they anything to teach the present?
Or best forgotten, best left to wither away.

I look at this place with open eyes
Rose tinted glass thrown aside long ago
Huge hearts and giant souls wrestled here
But these days who stands now in their shoes?

Past giants choose to stand in silence
Quietly without sound observing
A present that has nothing to say
That is filled with its own emptiness.
But what is the present without a future?
And what is the future without a past?

And in this time of uncertainty
I ask the same questions again
Who speaks for me and mine?
Who sings the authentic song?
Who speaks for me and mine?
Where are our poets and heroes now?

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