No 13 - January 2001
Boys then as now did not go with their mums
to football, fishing. They went to shops
for school caps, shoes, or did weekly rounds
to butcher’s, grocer’s. And got, perhaps,
toffees, sherbet, bagged up by the ounce.
Finch-like, little and nervous, black-haired,
with a dark, Levantine-olive skin
found in sea towns, a pigment she shared
with her brother Ted, my mum had been
the one in their brood of nine who cared
for the rest, pressed shirts, a specimen
common then. Second eldest but scared
of life. She would be the female in
her terrace not wed, but latish she paired
with Dad, for rich or poorer, thick and thin.
Pretty little Dorothy, or Dot:
I couldn’t understand what
made her marry my dad,
not the best choice to be had,
though I saw a few merits later.
Was it all his fault he beat her
(and me when I helped her out
twisting fang words in his gut)?
She was vain and frigid, I think,
and might’ve nagged most men to drink.
But I as first-born adored her.
By her coffin I laid a card
said my life’s work was for her sake.
At school till fourteen, she loved books
and wrote a grammatical hand,
bought me my first dictionary
and a Bible found on a stall.
These choices she couldn’t refuse.
A calm presence, and with me still.
We never get to know people unless
we are willing to let them need us. As
I did not ever notice if she had
a hurt that haunted her or howled or bled
its lot out through her, so I never knew her
completely or perhaps at all. There were
moments we had together in furtive
reciprocated emanations of
peace. I read her Spenser one summer and
she read romances by a fire which burned
dark brown reticulated patterns
on her bare shins. She doted on her sons,
we knew that. We knew she’d had harder times
when young: she had dabbed up crumbs. But the strains
on this world’s mother in the second war
were not for trench sons but for nippers near.
I sensed terror, not complaint. She taught us
to say our prayers, and never let us miss
Sunday School. She believed in a plain way
in God, tall doctors and the family.
She knit us to cousins, aunts, uncles. At
Christmas: crammed front-room parties. Elders wet
their whistles and murdered music-hall songs.
No one was a drunkard or thief. The young
were fed. The men jobbed. The women scrimmaged.
People looked old when they hit middle age.
She lost one breast to cancer. A thyroid
made her eyes bulge. And as she’d smoked
all her life, her last year was horrible.
After decades of house faints, heart trouble,
total reliance on Dad, throat cancer
was the last and worst pain, though ‘heart failure’
technically killed her. I was away. She
said I was not to miss my holiday.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The