At twelve, she makes a home.
They give her salt, for flavour,
and she remembers its importance;
a simple version of ‘King Lear’, Cordelia,
who told her father, not nothing,
but that she loved him more than salt.
Red is lifted from white, with half a cup.
Her sterile shame, a line of pale pink gussets,
lost-tooth wound, made clean
with just one mouthful. In her garden
slugs dissolve, unwanted. Dead.
The Devil’s on her left; she does not fear him,
though she throws spilled salt over her shoulder,
whispers it, like prayer, into cooking water.
She remembers again, Cordelia – her nothing
but how she loved her father.
How her father loved her,
gave her away, like salt.
When they are toe-poked,
arm-spurt sleeves too short.
into mat. When they are washed-grey,
darned-tight, yarn-pilled. Stitched-through
Handed back, pulled-out, passed on.
When she is treadle-numb, needle-sore.
Eye-bleared from tiny pattern words,
long-awake fixing into school-good.
for Our Eileen
No one hand washes these days,
no piles of nylons, drip-dry silk.
She did, even after twin-tubs,
plunged into the sink,
rolled through mangles, squeezed
of all their moisture, hung up
on airers, pegged out in the yard.
Before instruction labels,
she knew what should be done,
then like other things, she passed it on.
Like drying between your toes,
hot water bottles, hankies.
Making each child feel they were
the most important.
How to raise six children on a pittance,
feed them, with nothing,
clothe them with self-taught talent,
bled down through her daughters.
How to stay strong, well made,
even when you end up fragile, delicate.