The hall is her hopscotch highway,
wide as a lane and all hers,
front-room a teeming jungle
where florid ornaments tangle underfoot
and walls send ivy tendrils to catch
at her: wing-heeled she leaps
into the easy chair, safe now,
feet on seat (forbidden).
She mouths a strangeness: antimacassar –
that fuss on the armrest,
formal, gleaming creamy-white,
like mother’s pearls (forbidden).
One day the necklace tore, made patterns
on the floor like milk-teeth scattered
for seeds. Mother’s hand fell hard
on her mouth. The day withered.
The gurgle of bath water draining
reels her in. In half-light the washing line sags
with mother’s stockings, shapeless
as discarded skin. She heeds the drum-roll
of drops, brings her face close:
Wet has a smell! What’s under skin?
Her tights are woollen, beige-brown
like the inside of mars-bars.
Today she’ll risk her blue-veined marbles
under the plane-trees on the promenade.
Below, the cobbled street hems in
the grey flow of the river, its slow,
steady streaming (forbidden).
The grave call of a ship’s horn sounds,
deeper than anything. Freighters glide
their measured course as if drawn
on strings, passing all day with their loads,
regular as breath.
Later, when the day slows, mother will call
her in, they’ll look out the window,
they’ll sing their waiting-for-dad song.