Sometimes the garden gates of memory swing open

and the women of my childhood street pass through,

arm in arm with long steps and the competent

padded shoulders and tight belts of past fashion. It was

the era of swing, of bakelite telephones, radio dramas,

kidney tables, kiss-proof lipsticks.

The women coiled their hair into chignons talking

with their mouths full of hairpins. Their taciturn husbands

had come back from the war minus an eye or a limb

but never spoke about it, though sometimes they beat

one of the children for no reason. In the mornings

the women fastened their husband’s empty shirtsleeve

or trouser leg neatly like envelopes

containing angry messages.

The jagged symbols had been prised from public buildings

leaving ugly stains, and the old street signs slumbered

in the half-lit bottom of the river bed

among badges and medals. This was the new time,

the past had been folded and stored away, the rubble cleared

new buildings spread, new styles.

They kept up with trends, the neighbours

from my almost forgotten childhood,

with their Eau de Colognes, pencil skirts,

and practical sewing tips.

Which goddess of chic and common sense

held her hands over them? Over the cotton frocks

printed with daisy motifs, over coral necklaces

whose beads shone redder than drops of blood,

the lace collars like two half-moons

resting on pale or freckled collar bones,

the hourglass waists, the bowed heads with the straight parting

and, above all, over the watchful eyes

beneath pillbox hats decorated with veils

in which tiny enamelled beetles were caught.

Eva Bourke’s most recent collection is Piano ( Dedalus Press )