‘Six Perspectives on Lilian Kjærulff’ by Lisa Kelly

Six Perspectives on Lilian Kjærulff

2 April 1934 – 17 July 2010

i second daughter from second marriage

I know why you married so young.
You curtsied to him, offered your gloved hand
with your girlish good manners,
straight off the Esbjerg boat.
Your signature move: that dip.
You were a tall girl; your mother warmed
to see another top you by an inch.
You told me once, if out together,
you walked in the gutter,
so she didn’t feel so small. Nothing
bitchy meant by her remark,
Se, en anden giraf!
That’s why curtseying came so naturally:
maternal inculcation. Of course,
when you made yourself small for him,
he had to fall in love; and you were trained to please.
ii first husband

It wasn’t the height gap; it was the age gap
that bothered me: 13 years, I grey, you blonde.
Your accent I found charming,
Wheel for dinner darling?
but then tiring. I was a golfer, not a teacher.
I liked your sportiness. Your height must have helped:
Danish Junior Tennis Champion at 15.
Imagine. You at full stretch
smashing a ball, your dress rising.
When we met, you dropped a bunch of marguerites,
(well, that’s what we told the children)
bent at the same time, bumped heads,
and hearts.
You told me 13 was a lucky number in Denmark.
Sod the age gap:
I wanted you.

iii best friend

I called you Great Dane; you called me She.
Both with two children, both golf widows,
both with frightful mothers-in-law –
yours called you The Hun.
Bound to become friends darling.
Of course I knew. Everything.
You covered for me, I covered for you.
Friends do that. I often brought
my lover to lunch. You served
champagne and Smörgåsbord.
There was that time
you said Dickie tried to kiss you,
but he liked to tickle a lady
with his moustache. Just his way.
Nothing meant by it. All fun and games.
We got over it. Great Dane, such a sport!

iv second husband

Other men’s wives:
neglected, grateful for attention,
but most importantly no bother.
You were different.
He was a drinking pal at the club.
We had handicaps in common,
not much else. Until you.
I want another drink.
Will you dance with my wife?

Of course, I obliged.
The club tolerated affairs,
but it treated divorcees
like the Irish. We had to move.
I never regretted anything.
You were my Lil.
Jeg elsker dig.

v first daughter from first marriage

I was 11; it was a bit of an adventure packing.
I knew you were unhappy,
the last two years sleeping in my room,
making yourself small to fit in the bed,
long summers in Copenghagen.
You left dad a Dear John note.
I understood, but I loved him.
The adventure was soon over:
I missed school, my friends, London.
Buckinghamshire was just leafy. I went home.
He married the barmaid at the club;
she was nice until she took his name.
You phoned him once to tell him
to tell her to stop.
He said, If you hadn’t left
we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

vi mother

You were my only child.
And you left.
I saw you just two weeks every year:
in one house, and then another. Imagine.
Four grandchildren I couldn’t speak to.
I’m not trying to make you feel guilty,
but imagine. You broke my heart.
You could have had anyone, a Danish
anyone. I’m not trying to make you feel
guilty, but imagine what it was like
when I became ill. Your father on his own.
My memory going, repeating myself over
and over. I was so proud of you.
I want you to know that. Imagine how proud:
a champion at 15, beautiful manners.
And so tall.
(first published in Ambit)
Lisa Kelly is a half deaf, half Danish freelance journalist living in London. Her pamphlet Bloodhound is published by Hearing Eye. She is a regular host of poetry events at the Torriano Meeting House in London and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. She co-edited Magma Issue 63 on the theme of Conversation — and is on the board of Magma.