The Minister

The grass grows long among the graves
but paths have been beaten between, narrow and rank,
like animal trails, trodden by those respectful souls
who have searched and pacified in parts
islands in that encroaching overgrowth of green.
How well I know each carven name
upon the older stones – a face, each one, to me.
And I despise the stubborn grass,
allowed to grow so wild; am saddened
by so many stones left listing, cracked,
or ivy grown, protective railings
rusted through, sagging on their sunken plots
where thorns and nettles thrive,
and saplings, too, reach down their desecrating roots
to test what lies beneath the soil.
Brambles clamber over some; luxuriant berries
gleam in autumn sun – but no-one picks from here.
And everything succumbs.
Some older headstones have been hauled away
and lean against the chapel wall;
I pause. I put a face to each. I knew them all.
But oh, they’ve faded year by year… become forgotten,
and I feel that I myself am out of place, have been – mislaid.
Black marble, new, shines here and there,
with crisp incisions, rounded metal lids
like colanders, with holes for flowers; surrounds of
scattered calcite glisten white,
laid there to keep away the weeds, but were,
in days no longer here, sought keenly by
marauding teams of boys intent on scavenging
for five prize pieces, each of a chosen size
with which they’d play their ancient game.
I have quietly approached quite close, and halted
at their side; looked on. But never a need to say a word.
They would stand and stare with frightened eyes
and scatter like small birds.
They come no more. What fun in stones?
Perhaps, these days, they’ve more substantial toys.
I stand in the gap in the graveyard wall, where the stones
have tumbled down, and look along the grey back lane
to slate roofs stretching out for miles…
my up-and-down, my terraced town, with the
sleeping hills beyond. But it changes,
changes, year by year, in ways I cannot understand.
Not many walk the narrow lane these days.
I’ve heard it said by those that do there’s ‘something about’
this old back lane flanked by the graveyard wall,
some ‘presence’ hereabouts. I smile.
In all the bygone years I’ve encountered no such thing.
But superstition will abound.
When the wind blew chill one winter day
and snow lay heavy on the graves, I sought
the chapel’s sanctuary. And in the dark interior
ran my hand where the light fell weak
upon the pulpit’s wood, the old oak box
from which – how long, how long ago? – I’d sermonised.
My empty old oak box…
The heavy doors of my retreat were suddenly pushed wide.
Snow sped through and in the gloom
two women bearing pail and broom stopped dead;
they stared; they blanched; their buckets clashed upon the tiles
as they sought each other’s hands.
I wondered what could cause such fright, and turned round in surprise.
The empty flatness of the wall. No more.
And none stood there but I.

From ‘Journeys in Time’

10 thoughts on “The Minister

  1. I think I get the premise of who this was written by. What a powerful piece of writing with a subtle buildup and clever twist at the end that makes you go back, re-read and go “ahh!” in your mind!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Cicymru. Glad that you ‘saw through’ (!) the minister – and that you had to retrace his steps for the evidence (which he was incapable of grasping himself).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Diolch, Gill. One of those few, necessarily slow-developing, stories of a ghost who didn’t realise he was a ghost. I recall one on this theme written by one of the 19th century writers – Hoffman, I think, but I’m unsure at the moment. And there’s a really good one, ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail A-winding’, by American writer Russell Kirk, which was the first one to introduce me to this idea, an unusual one which not many have explored. Diolch am eich ateb, a hapus iawn i rannu.


  2. Incredibly detailed, vivid imagery. I am there in the cemetery, in the church grounds, watching the boys scrabbling and selecting, the ‘colanders’ with flowers poked through the holes, the stone wall, old headstones. I see the ladies there to scrub the church floor as my grandmother and friends used to scrub the cathedral floors with buckets and hand scrubbing brushes. I still have a faded black and white photo of them going to their task a hundred years ago. The lusciously ripe blackberries that would be everyone’s prize but will not be picked in this place speak volumes of the contrast between the abundance and continuity of time and the reality of the location and human significance.
    I love the gothic buildup to the climactic revelation and the complete lack of awareness of the minister completely at home in his loved familiar surroundings. Da iawn!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Roma. I can see that you’re ‘church’, and not ‘chapel’! 🙂 Perhaps this could have done with a Note, as the location is real, as is the minister – and I myself was one of the marauding boys searching for nice pieces of white calcite with which to play what must be one of the most ancient of games – quite likely played in pre-history – ‘Five Stones’, with all the dexterity it took. The location is the perennially neglected cemetery of Capel Newydd, Felinfoel Road, Llanelli, where I received my Welsh Calvinistic Methodist upbringing; the cemetery was in that state when I was a youngster, and was still in that state when I was there in the late 90s. My Hên Dadcu / Gorhêndad, John Lewis’ family lived in Chapel House for a while, as custodians of the chapel. Mamgu’s sister, my lovely Anti Kate, is said to have had the ‘second sight’. She used to walk home to the Chapel House by the back lane in the late evening, but I remember my mother telling me that she recalled her Tadcu saying, once, when she was a little girl, how Kate had suddenly stopped doing that and used to come instead by the well-lit road. Mamgu also told me that one cold, dark winter’s day, when they were quite young, she and Kate had entered the chapel, and Kate suddenly stood still and said ‘Pwy yw’r pregethwr ‘na yn y cornel?’ / ‘Who is that minister in the corner?’; but her sister could see no-one. (Kate was at one time – like many a woman of that era – a seamstress, and there is a story of her and a poltergeist which interrupted her work of which I have scant detail). The gap in the wall – one of easy ingress and egress for boys – was at least patched up after a fashion during my late ’90s visit. You own memories are written there above, too; you must show me that photograph. Thanks again for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A moving journey through the ages of memory- sorrowful and sensitive, with that dramatic, breathtaking ending, I truly trembled! So very evocative of the churchyards I too love to wander. Diolch am rannu Dafydd.


  4. Yes, I recognized the general location of your chapel and vividly pictured the streets, narrow alleys, and the terraced town. Latterly, I was church, but in younger days accompanied my Bopa to the Tabernacle Calvinistic Methodist Church and the Ebeneser Chapel from a very young age and started my lifelong love and memorization of Welsh hymns there. I can still envisage the heavy polished pews and the amazing full blown singing from the heart. It made the sermons palatable.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now how come I never knew that?! I’m aware of Bopa’s small, black ‘Llawlyfr Moliant’, though, and should have thought a little; but sometimes it comes as a surprise to be made aware of things which over so many years might have remained, for small reasons, unplumbed. And the cathedral and life around it looms large, of course. Yes, the terraced houses, the back gardens adjoining the back lanes – so glad you remember walking there – such a contrast to quiet, beautiful, ancient Tyddewi. Oh, that dirty, smoke-stacked, lovely old up-and-down town which has since had its guts, and with it much of its heart and soul, torn out of it by ‘developers’ and their local accomplices. Until at least the late ’70s Llanelli was the largest Welsh-speaking town in Wales. So much has disappeared; I don’t know if I would like to see it again.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I love this! I don’t know the exact location but, as a family historian, I have walked many similar narrow paths and seen many similar gravestones. Your superbly detailed description, as always, took me there, then I started to be suspicious, then my suspicions were confirmed. Subtle build-up, magnificent story-telling.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Jacydo. The location is Capel Newydd, Felinfoel Road, Llanelli, but as you say, there are, sadly, many cemeteries in a similar state elsewhere, and fine family historian that you are, I can well imagine you treading such paths. Glad you enjoyed it, and that the small clues to the Minister’s being (or, rather, non-being) nudged you a little before the last couple of lines!

      Liked by 2 people

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