The Hook and the Needle

A new poem by Sinéad Morrissey

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.