Stevie Davies

Stevie is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at Swansea University; a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy. Stevie and Nigel Jenkins founded Creative Writing at Swansea University. 

She has published widely in the fields of literary criticism, biography and popular history and is the author of fifteen works of fiction. The Element of Water (2001) was longlisted for the Booker and Orange Prizes and won the Wales Book of the Year prize in 2002. Stevie’s most recent novel is The Party Wall, published by Honno in 2020. 

A Man Can Be Forged

for my grandfather 

 

1. Upper Fforest Fach 

 

From Llangyfelach he came, 

wiry and sallow from 

rolling the plate, soused in tin 

thinned by Fforest furnace 

into something beaten and brutal. 

 

Rarely the ghost of a smile 

lights the skull in the photographs. 

Lungs leeched, sap dried, 

he went home to Llangyfelach 

early, the underground way. 

 

Long before closing time, 

put him to bed, the beaten brawler, 

beside his unforgiving wife, 

the blue-eyed pair, 

in Treforys Cemetery, Grave 81. 

 

2. South Wales Canister Company 

 

Here comes my jaunty lad of a dad, 

juggling ten thousand canisters, 

many of his making. 

Sold to the master he was, at fifteen. 

 

Sold was his dad, and dad’s dad. 

But mine got out; he flew. 

There goes my hawking father with the cough, 

the trophy. Watch him drain his glass. 

 

3. The Census 

 

Grandpa, I never knew 

you. But here I find your name 

in the census of 1901: 

‘Age 23: tube-maker. 

 

Languages: both’, 

and your half-brother, the greaser, 

fourteen years old. 

And your mam, the widow. 

 

You are remembered 

by the punches you dealt our women. 

By your leaving for the Great War 

to their relief. 

He was a rough one, said my mother, 

and not a diamond either. 

He drank, he was of his time. 

 

I think they forged you, 

they battered you out of shape, 

till your fists flew; 

and your voice rang 

with the desolate din of a sheet 

of tinplate, struck: 

one deafening volley of 

clangour and echo. 

 

Grandpa, how can I leave you 

here? Let me trace you back 

to 1881, undo the damage: 

‘Henry Francis Davies: son. 

Employment: none.’