I was an old bride, nearly thirty. Love wasn’t
my dream. Rather, belonging to him, my own parlour.
Why Charles with his tight-curled hair, almost roguish?
He’d crossed oceans—he might well have left
little Wrights in other ports.
I was At Home, a civil servant’s daughter. Unspoilt.
My husband understood machines—
a member of The Amalgamated Society of Engineers—
no diagrams, though, for the workings of his wife.
I never saw the farm, or his mother and father,
or heard the names of the two brothers and three sisters
who’d died. The past. A country he didn’t visit.
The past. My home. From Dublin to London—
West Ham, East Ham, Ilford—it made no difference.
I belonged nowhere. A Good Morning set me apart.
My voice was a fast river, and if it flooded
I saw cockneys thinking blarney or brood.
The black rock always inside me.
Walter was prompt, nine months after the wedding.
All frowns and bones, he was already far too old.
He grew longer and stronger
but no younger. A boy who stored his thoughts
in caskets, labelled. I observed him,
that slanting right eye, for signs of what—a fracture?
Our second child—she was everything I’d yearned for.
By her first birthday, Mabel was Mama-ing
and laughing with me.
It was just a tickle in her throat.
The cough growled down to her chest,
she started barking, her back arched—
the whoop almost split her open.
I gave her syrup of squills, laudanum drops.
The doctor told me Bundle her up,
take her for a ride on top of the omnibus.
A bit of air to sweep her out, no need to fret.
We came home blackened with soot.
On and on, a lullaby bleeding through the nights,
her hacking, me hushing,
but I could not give her my breath.
Her coffin was too white for the dark parlour.
A candle burning both ends, the mirror
turned to the wall.
A year rusting in black crêpe,
then a dress of black wool. I was caught
in half-mourning, grey.
Each night I waited for Charles to snore,
or I’d push him off as soon as he was near
it. I dried up. A fissure ran through me.
I started filling the parlour as if it were my heart.
A whatnot to display porcelain and ornaments,
the mantelpiece lined with glass lustre drops.
Everything draped—the lamps, the slow clock,
the mirror, the piano. Embroidered antimacassars,
memorial samplers: ‘When the Lord thought it best,
He took me to a place of rest.’ Walter stayed out.
The room made his eyes ache, Charles said.
I placed the chairs in a conversational manner.
A home circle, curtains drawn, walls dissolved
my hands trembling I listened for a sigh
the spirit trumpet to my ear coals creaked
a glow from beyond but she did not come
she never left a message to comfort me—
I could not stop haunting my daughter.
Everyone was retreating. Charles
away on the distilleries. Even Walter,
off to the war, after he’d married Annie,
a shadowy soul. Thankful to be my lodger,
she read me snippets of his letters: ‘It is not quiet
here at the moment.’ The roar of howitzers
gave my son ‘gunner’s ears’, silenced
the few words he’d ever had. I did miss him,
wondered if he let her in to his secrets.
My eyes were gritty and bloodshot.
I saw haloes. The doctor brushed me off:
low spirits and excessive work in the brain.
I scurried home through the city
with its blackened bricks and smutted faces.
Charles turned on his charm—
gained me entrance to Moorfields, no less.
The new doctors traced a grey-green haze
in my pupils: glaucoma. I retired to the twilight.
My great-granddaughter, what we share
is a longing to converse with ghosts.
Leaning towards the dark, don’t we almost sparkle?
Mary Alice Wright