Thursday, November 02, 2023

Dannie Abse: Return to Cardiff

I hope to be off for a long family weekend visit later today.

‘Hometown’; well, most admit an affection for a city:

grey, tangled streets I cycled on to school, my first


in the back lane, and, fool, my first botched love affair.

First everything. Faded torments; self-indulgent pity.


The journey to Cardiff seemed less a return than a raid

on mislaid identities. Of course the whole locus smaller:

the mile-wide Taff now a stream, the castle not as in

     some black,

gothic dream, but a decent sprawl, a joker’s toy façade.


Unfocused voices in the wind, associations, clues,

odds and ends, fringes caught, as when, after the doctor


a door opened and I glimpsed the white, enormous face

of my grandfather, suddenly aghast with certain news.


Unable to define anything I can hardly speak,

and still I love the place for what I wanted it to be

as much as for what unashamedly is

now for me, a city of strangers, alien and bleak.


Unable to communicate I’m easily betrayed,

uneasily diverted by mere sense reflections

like those anchored waterscapes that wander, alter, in

      the Taff,

hour by hour, as light slants down a different shade.


Illusory, too, that lost dark playground after rain,

the noise of trams, gunshots in what they once called

     Tiger Bay.

Only real this smell of ripe, damp earth when the sun

       comes out,

a mixture of pungencies, half exquisite and half plain.


No sooner than I’d arrived the other Cardiff had gone,

smoke in the memory, these but tinned resemblances,

where the boy I was not and the man I am not

met, hesitated, left double footsteps, then walked on.

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