Mother was four foot ten
We grew with the practical—
She would stretch her spine
knuckle its ridge on tiny bones, arch
then return to the range and fire
flat irons. Used the sly art—a ploy
that kept black lead from Irish homespun linen.
Ways to test metal, a smithy’s tongue lick.
Her spit blown through pursed lips
and the wet finger dip—the sound of searing
spittle boiled off finger pads. The cloy
steam raised from iron weighed
atop wet-press cloths. The fraudulent soap
bar on the inside crease of a trouser
—for that sharp look.
And we nestled while she sweated
irons from fire to cloth to trivet.
In play we pressed handkerchiefs,
tea clouts, pillow slips; tested
coolness with small finger tips.
On washhouse day the boiler smoked.
Whites washed by hand peeled skin
and ached fingers. Then the boiling
scent of green lather, the steamed
windows always thick with soot
from the railway. A broom handle
cut in half—the right tool to lift
scalded rags for rinse and wring.
Nights she worked, men at battle
and she the war effort to uphold
or be branded with other iron.
Five daughters under eight, while
Great Aunt Maude sat in the hard chair
Protestant and English. Too fat to fight
they scurried into class fingers pointed
demanding dear daughters' first year
not be shared with a dirty Roman Catholic.
Who Knows From Wherever
There’s somehow in my mind a game
seen on canvas grained. And plain
a boy wild eyed, his mouth an ark
his legs a canter, background—not dark
but more severe odd shades in gray.
Over cobbles, past closed doors
laced up windows busy stores
bustling commerce in the street
he, in and out, old dickens feet
—on and on he roars.
Toward me, from the past expanse
he whips a hoop, a merry dance.
Old barrel maker gives a chase
determined look on ruddy face
he knows he’ll lose the race.
There’s somehow in my mind a child
Wanton, willful, old world wild.
Copyright © 2005 Joan McCormick