Tuesday, 18 August 2020

My Big Sister Boudicca

 

      I have been locked down and shielding nearly six months now. I have the evidence of this extraordinary isolation in my rather untidy notebook.

 These conditions, for good or ill, lead to excess introspection – a detailed examination of the present, future and - particularly if you are my age – the past.

 So was that one day my late sister took residence in my imagination. I loved her deeply and for a long time she was my heroine.  So one day, notebook on knee,  shielding myself beneath my trees, I started talk to her about the hard times of our growing up, which we faced in very different ways.


 

           Big Sister

Your hair is the colour of a bright penny

much admired by  everyone.

 Mam - also red-haired -says,

“Like Boudicca and the first Elizabeth.

great women, both.”

 

At first you wear your hair in long plaits,

hooked up with green ribbons. One day

I sit on the stairs listening to them row

when – school looming - she insists

on cutting off those long plaits;

 

My own hair – curly and tangled, mostly unkempt -

means that eventually I’m christened Medusa

by cruel boys at school, where clever does not count

and  I’m never picked for teams and am ignored

by you in corridors. Unhappy times.

 

And each day with my tangled hair

and slipshod ways I walk ten paces

behind you  on our way to school.

You do not turn. And I feel   

 I am not here.

 

But with your clever mind and bright penny hair  

you find your place among the racy girls

who admire your dancing style and love

those green shoes with four-inch heels –  

that Mam has bought  for you on credit .

 

At school your friends - too cool to study –

hold you back,  drag you down,

and stop you showing your clever brain.

(Even so, you still go on into the world

and rise to the top. )

 

With Mam working at the factory

your cool friends visit  our tiny house,

roll back the rug, put Bill Haley

on our Dansette player – also bought on credit –

and start to dance

 

But I am here, lying on the sofa, half asleep -

these days playing truant seems to be my only option.

“Hey lass!” says the coolest girl. “Are you off school again?”

But you just stand there before the mirror, back-combing

your bright penny hair into a bouffant style.

 

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