My Father

Aley Howell 1919-1945

x

FATHER
In memoriam Aley Howell
My father who died at child-birth
          far from his son. Now I run out of words
and climb the forests to lament him:
          here, he is precious, is air-currents,
pressures weighed in the leaves’ hands.
          An aroma tipped from bracted bowls, passed on
from stem to stem as his breath
          bends them. He is the callid, handy god
mother barred the house to at daybreak,
          who refuses. She found another man grew up,
their son, who loves at a distance
          him & her and his close sisters winding
in his head. But how he loses!
          Voices dent him where they can no entry stave.
All he leans back on lurches off.
          Astounded, as I grow closer his age,
I lament my father.
          He is much younger than his helpless son.
From Inside the Castle, Barrie & Rockliffe, The Cresset Press, London 1969
Born in Copenhagen, Eli Rosenbluth took his wife’s name and changed the spelling of his first name to Welsh-sounding Aley in order to serve overseas in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) on returning from Australia where he had been interned at Hay – in the Australian outback – as a foreign alien, for the first three years of the war. He was sent to Australia on the infamous Dunera.

L + R – Gideon and Aley (Eli) Rosenbluth, Berlin.
When living in Australia in the eighties, I attempted to visit Hay and a sandstone feature nearby called The Walls of China. I never got there.
WHY I MAY NEVER SEE THE WALLS OF CHINA
As the road unrolls the plain
          light gets steadily worse:
The sun has left a stain
          like that of a crushed horse.
x
Less and less can be seen
          approaching an increasingly
Insect-spattered windscreen.
          On we go unceasingly
x
In one direction – ahead –
          pausing only to spend the night
On a hotel bed;
          but dressing before the light,
x
Eager to get there.
          As day enlarges,
Our little car
          splashes through mirages,
x
Underwings decamp
          hurriedly in a flock.
We rattle with each bump,
          Tilt away from the truck
x
Rushing towards and past us;
          wondering whether our fuel
And water will last us
          to the next meal
x
In a mining town,
          the next chamber
In which to put the head down,
          dream re-runs of camber
x
Littered with tyre-shells,
          sheep carcasses,
The crow’s wails
          and the parrot’s raucousness
x
When we go for a leak.
          Mostly we drive on
And on without a break
          across the plain.
x
‘Do not overtake
          on crests or curves’
Reads as a joke
          where the road never swerves
x
And there’s no one to race.
          All the road leads to is road.
Scarcely in one place,
          we are merely a load
x
Speeding from sign to sign
          – Stock, Dip, Grid –
Crossing the time-zone line
          as if on a desperate bid
x
To beat the clock,
          melt the road’s edges,
Where gourds bake
          among the weeds’ smudges
x
Of merging greenery,
          while the middleground
Shifts its scenery
          before that profound
x
Place in the distance
          where the trees preserve
Their motionless existence
          at a far remove
x
From the dust in our wake,
          the tumbleweed ahead,
The thirst we cannot slake
          To be either quick or dead.
x
An axle pulls to the left;
          a shoulder-blade starts aching;
The mind keeps going soft,
          or shudders on awaking
x
To the fact of having slept,
          if only for a second,
As the swift road swept
          how many yards unreckoned
x
Under the bonnet?
          Having come this far,
We rest for a minute
          out of the car;
x
It being extraordinary
          simply to stare
At some quite ordinary
          corner of nowhere.
x
Best not to linger though,
          given we’ve got
Some distance to go
          in order to get
x
Within sight of the walls.
          Keen to arrive
Before night falls,
          we continue our drive.
x
Then the road alters:
          wheels choose a rut.
Minuscule creatures
          easily squashed flat,
x
Over and over,
          we roll to a stop.
Have we killed each other?
          Both of us stand up.
x
Hurled from our route,
          more lucky than bruised,
Where branches hang mute
          on a road seldom used,
x
We have ended up facing
          the opposite way
In the staved casing
          hired for a holiday.
x
Turned around and sent
          back the way we came,
Our destination bent
          by a fluke from a larger game.
x
So perhaps we tried to bite off
          more than we could chew:
Leaving behind a write-off,
          I sit across from you
x
As we trundle home over the plain,
          whether or not we please;
Glimpsing, from the train,
          animals still as trees.
x
From Why I may Never See the Walls of China, Anvil, London 1986
Aley’s diary
Aley kept a comprehensive diary of his time in the internment camp. He also kept the zoo at Hay, and he brought back a big lizard which escaped in the blackout at Waterloo Station as he was about to give it to his future wife Deborah (a government veterinary surgeon) for safe-keeping. It was eventually re-captured and this picture by Aley epitomises his “dragon” and his adoption of a Welsh identity (safer than being identifiably Jewish during WW2).

x

Deborah Howell – by Aley

Could this be a photo of Hay camp?

Aley and the motor-cycle with sidecar – on which he was killed in an accident, serving as an officer in REME, Naples 1945 (a few weeks before his son was born).
NEAR CLOUDS HILL
He flew over my bonnet like a super-hero.
I had hoped to circumvent the queue
By making a u-turn. Well, it’s down to me,
x
But they will hog the hump of the road
As if their tires unrolled the line.
Near Bovington, some ten days on,
x
I just avoid two dawdling boys
On bicycles beyond a rise.
When T. E. Lawrence flew off his
x
He ended up garrotted by barbed wire.
My father’s had a bad rep with its side-car.
He scowls in front of it in uniform,
x
Then takes off for the Opera or for Paestum
In 1945.  I wonder whether those boys
Are alive, or the ghosts of dead bikers?
x
From Silent Highway, Anvil, London 2014
Aley as experimental photographer:

x

Aley on Erica – Deborah’s horse – at Upshire – her mother’s home on the edge of Epping Forest. Probably taken the last time they were together – before he went with REME to Naples in 1944 – from where he never returned.

UPSHIRE
After I was born the side that had to stand
On its own against them was back full of swords
Where he was the next of the lost. The duck drank in the wild and she
Was painted by Scott but not in a tree.
x
The forest was committed over a church mound ago,
And so the white weather-boarded house is part
Of a short line of houses crowning the brow
Of Horseshoe Hill. Would my father’s name
x
Climb the tree to an ancestor?
I was standing there on my small stone,
Born in a gazebo where I must have failed in daughters
And all the leather-bound years that hoard
x
A suicide view of the barn. On the edge of Epping Forest,
There was a walnut once, my son; and if you could climb to the top
Of it you would get a view of Boadicea’s monument.
There is the small stone gazebo standing on its own in a field
x
Where her horses failed her and her daughters
Drank the poison first, in front of her, and round the back
Of the white weather-boarded house
There used to be an old black weather-boarded barn
x
And round the back of that a mound, I think,
Where I was sure I had found her hoard of rusted swords.
Swords they were not. With hindsight I guess
They must have been farm implements, but served the child
x
I was as swords, and in the white
Weather-boarded house next to ours
There was a ceiling full of birds. I know that
Saint Walnut of Epping died so Hitler could be stopped.
x
I have been in Boadicea’s monument of swords.
Are they still there, I wonder – wild duck in flight
Painted by the son of Scott who died in the Antarctic?
Hitler was born on my birthday and committed suicide
x
Ten days after I was born in 1945.
My father served. His name’s engraved in stone
On the side of Saint Thomas’s porch.
He had died just before Hitler though, lost in one black month.
x
The church was built a little over a hundred years ago
By a Buxton ancestor. I was a child who died of joy
In a field of white. That month engraved
In hindsight with swords was used against Hitler in 1945,
x
And if I poison the birds a round house by the hill
Of a hundred leather-bound horses implements the wonder
Of Thomas’s horseshoe and of all my weather-boarded houses
Built round the back of the Antarctic.
x
Ten sure days to get to it by stone. I think a Buxton rusted once.
The lost farm found the little guess I stopped.
The porch is part of the joy that should have been there
Crowning a birthday, had he not been lost.
x
And did she stand on a brow before a frontline of short swords
As were there of old?  He and I know that first
You should edge them though. Are the swords still there?
In that weather-boarded house the ceiling was on top of her.
x
From Songs of Realisation, High Window Press, London 2019

Boadicea’s monument, Upshire, Essex
Aley and Deborah were socialists, whereas his father and his uncle were prominent Zionists. I have engaged with their relationship, and with my own experiences in regard to Israel in two prose works:
The Best Deborah Stories, Manubook, London 2015.

Painting by Dilys Bidewell – which I used on the cover for The Best Deborah Stories
Consciousness (with Mutilation) – Odd Volumes, The Fortnightly Review, Les Brouzils 2019 – click here for details

About anthonyhowelljournal

Poet, essayist, dancer, performance artist....
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7 Responses to My Father

  1. Dilys Bidewell says:

    Your father had a sensual mouth – as I noticed you had, the first time I met you. I feel sad, reading your words, how near, in terms of the war ending, he came to surviving, and how perverse it was, after being transported (in the other ship that wasn’t sunk) to far away, bloody Hay (at least safe from the war) to – having joined up after getting all the way back – he would then be positioned on that perilous bend, to keep his date with death, which was not to be cheated.

    By the way – my painting was not made as an illustration for your, much later, book – it is my portrait of Deborah’s room, which, because of its contents, refers to the three of you. I rather object to it being seen as a secondary image, commissioned to illustrate a cover.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  2. Dilys Bidewell says:

    Sorry – clumsily written at end of first paragaph.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  3. Jonathan Betz-Zall says:

    Thanks so much for these informative words, Anthony. My mother, Aley’s cousin, told me a few stories about him but I had no idea of the breadth of his experiences. What I remember is a wonderfully lifelike sculpture of a rearing horse that Aley created. It ended up with our Rosenbluth cousins in Vancouver BC.

    Like

  4. yaibhoranimecom says:

    Dear Anthony Thank you very much for your kind sending me your article about your late father, it was very enjoyable to read this article. I was appreciated your kindness. Best regards, Bhorani

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

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