In this post I’m back in the garden, picking the last of the runner beans.

runner beans in flower

I’m reminded of my father, who was very fond of a plate of beans fresh from the garden with a poached egg or two on top and bread and butter on the side. 

That’s all you need to know about my father to understand this month’s poem but I feel I should say more. But what and how much? I stir a large pot of memories and facts and wonder what my father would advise me to ladle onto my readers’ plates.

I decide to use his own words about his life, abstracting from a short personal and family history he wrote. He begins with his father, Morgan David Williams, who studied in the miners reading room at Resolven, won a scholarship to Cardiff University to study mining and became a lecturer in mining and author of ‘Practical Machine Mining’ which was translated into several languages.

My father, David Aelwyn Williams (D.A. to his friends) was born in 1908. He had severe asthma as a child, but encouraged and helped by his father he worked hard at school and qualified as a doctor in 1930. 

His medical career centred on the study of asthma and other allergic diseases. He teamed up with a botanist at Cardiff Museum, Harold Hyde, to study pollen and airborne spores and their role in hay-fever and they produced many papers from the Asthma Research Unit in Cardiff. He was invited to Brussels, Paris and America to give talks on his research on asthma and other allergic diseases. He recalls his delight at visiting the Sorbonne in Paris in 1952 as President of the British Association of Allergy and how much he and my mother enjoyed a sumptuous dinner that was served on marvelous silver dishes which had been buried in the garden of one of the professors during the war.

In later life, when he was becalmed in Barry, he always enjoyed a plate of runner beans fresh from our garden. He died in1986. 

The treacheries of Spring, the sneaky frosts,
the sudden snows are blown away
in the breath of dandelion clocks, it’s time
to rummage in the corner of the shed,
collect the bamboo stakes and string, erect
an arch and lash it tight against the wind, 
and write the label - Scarlet Emperor.
I take the black and purple seeds, inert
as shiny granite pebbles and confide
them to the dirt, wait for the sodden alchemy 
and see the leaves expand the tendrils twist
around the canes and spiral in a riot
of tumbling green and scarlet, dusted black
with aphids. Everything calls back the time
when you presided as the emperor 
in the gardens of my infancy.
I see you at our table, butter melting
on your favourite supper - even when
you almost were my extra child you kept
a relish for the summer glut of beans.
The ground has swallowed you but tendrils of
your memory still cling to me. I’ll hold 
them while my frame can stand against the breath
of feathered clocks that blow the Spring away.
Anne Bryan

‘Bean Time’ was published in the magazine Tears in the Fence No 43 in 2006