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 )