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David, we must have looked comic, sitting
there at next desks; your legs stretched
half-way down the classroom, while
my feet hung a free inch above
the floor. I remember too, down
at The Gwynne's Field, at the side
of the Little Taff, dancing with
laughing fury as you caught
effortlessly at the line-out, sliding
the ball over my head direct to
the outside-half. That was Cyril
Theophilus, who died in his quiet
so long ago that only I, perhaps,
remember he'd hold the ball one-handed
on his thin stomach as he turned
to run. Even there you were careful
to miss us with your scattering
knees as you bumped through
for yet another try. Buffeted
we were, but cheered too by our
unhurt presumption in believing
we could ever have pulled you down.
I think those children, those who died
under your arms, in the crushed school,
would understand that I make this
your elegy. I know the face you had,
have walked with you enough mornings
under the fallen leaves. Theirs is
the great anonymous tragedy one word
will summarize. Aberfan, I write it
for them here, knowing we've paid to it
our shabby pence, and now it can be stored
with whatever names there are where
children end their briefest pilgrimage.
I cannot find the words for you, David. These
are too long, too many; and not enough.
Aberfan is a village in Wales. On 21 October 1966 after some days of continuous rain a huge tip of coal waste collapsed and slid down the hillside onto a school. 116 children and 28 adults died. This poem was written for one of the teachers whose buried body was found protecting his students. It is a moving and powerful poem.
It is now six months since the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku on 11 March 2011. Some of the stories of Aberfan sound familiar in Japan. Warnings were ignored, perhaps for years. And after the tragedy the authorities became defensive.
This week in western Japan heavy rains caused landslides. More than 100 people are dead or missing. One of the most severely hit areas was Wakayama. Wakayama is in Kansai, the area of western Japan around Osaka and Kobe and Kyoto. People from Kansai speak a strong dialect.
Morihei Ueshiba - O Sensei - the founder of aikido was born in Tanabe City in Wakayama. O Sensei's wife Hatsu was also from Wakayama and I have been told she spoke in a noticeable Kansai dialect. She died in 1969 just two months after O Sensei.
I.C. Rapoport very kindly gave me permission to use this stark shot of Aberfan. Please check out his cool photos here. There are some dynamic ones of krav maga which he does and some memorable ones of major figures in twentieth century history. I particularly liked the pictures of Samuel Beckett who did with words what I.C. Rapoport does with his lens. Thanks again to a great photographer and a brother martial artist.
I have an essay in a charity e-book put together by some writers and photographers for Tohoku. A pdf version is available for $9.99. 100% goes to the Japanese Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami.