Torfaen

by Philip Williams

They told us Torfaen – Stone Breaker –
was the older name and that our river
only became grey – Afon Llwyd
when they came to cut the coal.

“You could not see it for foam,”
my father said. He remembered its speed,
just as fast as we boys found it,
taking the feet from beneath you, taking its toll.

They all but emptied our valley of magic
when they filled in the fields
between each village to form our town.
Except here, behind Ty Pwca,

where the worn lane rises in its steep bend
beyond The Last Bus Stop and The Fairy’s House:
the Pwca, our Bwgi-Man, your Puck.
And there, where the Candwr Brook –

The Singing Waters – still clears her throat
over smooth, cold stones.
So why, I wondered, from Saxton,
an Elizabethan approximation

of the name we had all used all along?
Had the stream, Torfaen, simply lost her voice
as she broadened to a river
somewhere bleaker, blacker, a place

with spittle in its throat, a rattling in its lungs?
Or did our Afon Llwyd only combine
with Torfaen to form one grey, stone-breaking river
when they baptised us all into one Borough

and gave us each a name we never knew?