The Complaint of Old Mary-Anna

Another exciting contribution of creative writing from Cwtsh Writers of Newport.  It is fascinating to see how this project, Coleridge, Wales & Exploration can inspire such a varied response. 

Three bright, smart, young figures step towards the station: two men and a woman. Their words echo out along the streets, past the other commuters. One of the young men is saying:

‘And so, they said I was the only one proposing to look at the whole of Wales, and for that reason, the Council had to back me!’

‘And that’s why they gave you the grant?’ asks the woman.

‘Yes! All I have to do is call in at their office today and sign on the dotted line!’

They cross the road leading to the carpark: their cool reflections gleam in the glass façade of the station. But as they approach the automatic sliding door, an old woman walks towards them, her skinny hand pointing at the lucky grant-winner. She stares at him, as if she knows him.

‘There was a land…’ she says.

‘What?’ says the young man.

‘There was a land…’ she repeats.

‘Look here,’ says the young man, ‘I’ve got an important meeting in Cardiff, I’m sorry, but I just can’t stop.’

His two companions look at him, and then slide past the old woman, through the automatic doors.

‘Bye, Sam!’ calls out the young woman. ‘Maybe see you at the next Arts Council meeting!’

Sam splutters in a despairing way, but something in the old woman’s eye has caught him, and he’s transfixed by her.

‘There was a land,’ she says once more. ‘A land to which a confused young man was drawn to visit. He walked more than five hundred miles across it one summer, looking for its truth.’

‘Yes, yes, this is all very well,’ says the grant-winner, casting a despairing eye as he sees his companions inside the station concourse, walking up the stairs to the platforms.

The old woman begins again. ‘He was looking for the sublime, he said, he was searching for “rural innocence.” He ate bread and cheese as he walked: he gave impromptu inflammatory speeches in pubs, he spoke of democracy and the creation of a new Christianity.’

The young man slumps now, leaning against the glass wall of the station. He has no choice but to listen. ‘My grant!’ he moans.

‘In those days he was a visionary, a radical, unafraid to confront the tired corrupt authorities.’

She pauses, and fixes him once more with her eye.

‘What happened to him next? Oh, he edited a paper, almost single-handed, for a few months. He wrote letters and poems, lots of them. He fell in and out of love, preferring to spend his nights with his papers and rimes rather than with his wife.’

The young man is now looking at her with alarm.

‘But he forgot the land and its people. He never saw the rise of industry, the influx of migrant workers, the domination of King Coal, and then the terrible slump. To him, the land remained just some green hills and valleys: beautiful, of course, but almost without people.

‘And now the land is in a bad way. Too many people, too few jobs. Uncertain about its future. Maybe what it needs is a poet—a real poet—to speak for it.’

She falls silent, and steps aside to let him walk to the station. But the young man slowly turns away, and then walks back up the hill, a sadder and a wiser man.


Sharif Gemie