Whistling on the in breath
Your forte. Carols, music hall tunes,
even the odd aria. A choir of children
dressed in red with white ruffs
sings in Latin this morning
till the stained glass shivers
but it’s your whistling I hear,
sound track of my childhood.
We brought you with us once,
you fiddled with your hearing aid
‘What’s he saying? Can’t hear a thing.’
Afterwards I got 2 out of ten
because I’d forgotten the sherry
and you worried all through the presents
that you’d not get home in that snow,
the house so hot we had to strip off.
I remembered, walking to church,
the bottle of olive oil I dropped
in my panic about the turkey
the way, however hard I scrubbed
I couldn’t get the grease off the tiles.
I loved you because you acted the goat.
With you I could be a kid again,
not a nanny in sight.
Just your soft coat, your rough beard,
your insatiable appetite
and me ready to taste everything.
I’d like to know what ‘snippets of tittle tattle’
the laundress tucked in among the goffered shirts,
broderie anglaise petticoats and lace bibs
sent in a box from London.
I wonder if she ever took a swig of the gin
that was meant for removing grease stains
or fought off the advances of the messenger boy
with a swipe of that mangle bat.
I bet they never let her sit in the East Formal garden
with its whites, pinks and blues, its views
of the south lawn, parkland straight out of Watteau,
that haha keeping the black cows out.
Purple is king in the old rose garden
with its salvia, ceonothus, campanula,
the only sounds wind like water in the trees,
footsteps on gravel, an old man’s cough.
In the walled garden, where catmint and lady’s mantle
tumble under arches of espaliered pear, girls in long frocks
and boys in peaked caps play hoop and ball,
the laundry clock strikes one, even the rhubarb knows its place.
(published in The Garden, OWF Press)
Carole Bromley teaches Creative Writing for York University. First collection, A Guided Tour of the Ice House, published by Smith/Doorstop, 2012. Currently judging the York Literature Festival/ Yorkmix poetry competition. Closing date Saturday 28th February. 1st Prize £400.