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Poem: Christmas Goose – Irene Thomas

25 Dec 2023 3 minute read
Image: ArbyReed Flickr

Stephen Price

Christmas in Wales is an anthology edited by Dewi Roberts from Seren Books.

This remarkable book brings together fragments of stories, poems, diaries and letters about folk customs, food, presents, frost and snow.

Described by publishers as ‘the perfect literary companion to the festive season’, it’s an important and moving introduction to some of our most beloved writers and poets – from Francis Kilvert to R S Thomas, Gillian Clarke and Saunders Lewis and many many more.

Comfort and joy

There are too many special pieces to pick a favourite – Kilvert’s descriptions of a bygone Wales (particularly Hay on Wye and the Powys Herefordshire borders, which were much more Welsh back then) are a delight to read, as are the words of Merthyr’s Leslie Norris.

These aren’t always tales of comfort and joy. These weren’t easy times. Are any?

In keeping with Carwyn Graves’ recent article on Nation.Cymru which highlighted the importance of goose meat and grease to Christmas past in Wales, a standout from this anthology for me, especially being a Blaenau Gwent boyo, is Christmas Goose by Ebbw Vale poet, Irene Thomas.

Christmas Goose

I had heard of the Gander
and the violence.

I watched
the annual pantomime of goose feathers
the hissing and the cackling.

My grandmother, knee deep in down,
plucked the Christmas goose.
Feathers flew from her fingers
and cushioned the wooden chairs,
settled a white cover on the table.
I clapped my hands
and the feathers danced to set patterns
over the oiled cloth,
a ballet along familiar lines.
They hung in the air
and with a sharp intake,
filled my mouth until I spat out.
I stuffed armfuls into bolsters
and pillows cased in ticking.

Up to my elbows in warm snow,
I chilled.
The pimples
and the comic appearance of the stripped bird
gave rise to old chestnuts,
‘His goose is cooked’,
drew ribald laughter-come-to-crying.

on chesty nights
I slipped into goose-greased dreams
held between the bony knees of nightmare.
White winged sheets
beat like angels guarding
as my grandfather played his part
with the cutting edge,
and circled the long white neck
of Mother Goose
with a gash of ruby.

I buried my face in the pillow
to deaden the screaming and the song,
but feathers suffocated.

Irene Thomas

Find out more about Dewi Roberts’ anthology, Christmas in Wales, here.

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