My grandmother, Hilda Hill, lived off the Gloucester Road all her life. She left Bishop Road School at 13 and went into service, marrying five days before Armistice was declared and raising 11 children born between the wars, including triplets. In her spare time she wrote poetry.
The following three sonnets are all set in roughly the same area over a period of 100 years. The first is about Hilda, and is told in the voice of her best friend, Cousin Kate.
On The Gloucester Road
She liked finery, did your
and who could blame ‘er?
All those books in the master’s library
leather-bound, embossed with gold
and ‘er grown up with nothing?
Small wonder she took to borrowing
sliding t’others along the shelves to ‘ide the gap.
Then there were the times she’d climb through the window
in ‘er mistress’s best dress and blue silk drawers.
Once I saw her in a fox fur stole
draped over the arm of an army officer.
Good evening, Kate, she says to me, and how are you?
‘Er smile as sweeping as the Zodiac
and not a stitch of ‘er own clothing on ‘er back.
The sun burns the back of her neck
sticky as the orange spangle forgotten in her pocket.
Thursdays are always orange
bobbing round and round her head
they hurt her eyes.
She pulls at the hand that’s gripping hers.
Yes, this is my youngest. Hasn’t she grown?
Stop scuffing your shoes, I won’t be long!
Thursdays are milk checks, a pound of liver
broken biscuits from the high box on the counter.
Islands of shadow under awnings
are ice lolly cool and out of reach.
Her shadow’s black and squat and
cross as a thundercloud.
Clouds have covered the sun
and suddenly all of summer’s gone.
Half way up Pigsty Hill she’s still driving
with her hand clamped over her mouth
as if stopping her spirit from slipping out
might bring his back.
Her mind tests the edges of this gap
mourns the poems he’ll not write.
Road a man rides by,
a brindled bulldog on the crossbar
of his bike.
A clatter of pigeons lifts in arcs,
their wings are flurrying and dark
against the sky.
© Deborah Harvey 2014
These sonnets are from my new collection, Map Reading For Beginners, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing and available from their website, Amazon and all good independent bookshops.