Poem of the Week: The Hook and the Needle

As part of Liverpool Presents Sgt Pepper at 50, a new Beatles poem by Sinéad Morrissey

Sgt Pepper at 50: John Lennon and Ringo Starr, from the exhibition Unseen Beatles, featuring photographs by Frank Herrmann. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Sgt Pepper at 50: John Lennon and Ringo Starr, from the exhibition Unseen Beatles, featuring photographs by Frank Herrmann. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

On the other side of the needle, my mother’s
freezing her knitted socks off
practising smoke rings at the back of the Craft Hut
in Miss Violet Markham’s School for Girls
in Chesterfield.

Her friend is huge with news. This new band – my brother
shares their flat in Liverpool –
their first single’s due out soon – he says it’s a sure-
fire number one – they’re set to be massive –
My mother snaps

her throat shut, blows an ‘O’ as neat as a bracelet,
flicks ash from her cigarette
and listens. Her purple regulation beret’s
stuffed in her blazer pocket and for years
it’s been too tight:

England tethered fast in sad allotments, dripping
on toast for tea, her father
hacking coal dust into hankies, never to work
again, the wireless a sodden blanket
over every

single stifled evening since consciousness began.
Slide out the vinyl, lower
the stylus and she’s through – leaving a note that she
hoped would say more – in the blink of an eye:
metal worker,

rock chick, Communist, vanished across to Belfast
on the Liverpool ferry –
just for a holiday, promise – blindingly short-
skirted, ready to blow a hole as wide
as a gunwale

in my staggered father’s heart. Her mother falling
asleep of an afternoon
with her apron on in a suntrap at the end
of the garden sinks out of sight, and not
even riots

or bombs or the postman shot dead in Kilwilkie
for handling letters tarnished
by stamps of the Queen can summon her up again.
My mother’s Irish children dangle off
walls and fences
and imagine each half of their bodies awash
with differently-coloured blood.
Hooks and needles: the lives we stitch, the lives we pull
apart to sew from scratch once more among
our opposites –

my mother’s gypsy slipperiness still exists
in me, who, over halfway
through perhaps (one never knows), am hitching high my
skirts and running, aiming for the needle,
ditching almost

everything I own, shutting my eyes, as she once
did, to land where she began,
in a confetti of sweet pea and snapdragon,
the tea still warm in its cosy, the back
door on the latch.

This poem was commissioned as part of Liverpool Presents Sgt Pepper at 50, curated by Séan Doran and Liam Browne. Sinéad Morrissey has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best collection for On Balance (Carcanet)