Saturday, 16 July 2011

cash converters

Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way talks about people who come together as 'blocked creatives' going on to become film directors, novelists etc. We have no such lofty plans in our group, but here is a poem written by one of our members, who had never written poetry before we got together (this is her second). Hearing her read it was quite something.

Cash Converters

A Friday payday siren pierces the air and the iron gates yawn
First a two line trickle then a torrent.
I smell burning steel, mixed with caulking tar and earth dirt.
Towers of men, faces streaked, clothes pockmarked, bodies
bent forward in desperation, gasp their way out.

There’s too many of them.
I take in the gate; the lamp post, the sign. I am standing where he said I should
He cannot have forgotten the plan?
I search all the faces, my eyes racing from one to the other.
Willing a spark of knowing to ignite.

I wait a long time.
A trickle again, then nothing but the lingering smells.
I have failed. He on the other hand will have slipped in to
Betty McGhee’s, or the Seven Seas.
Before long he will be sailing on the crest of whisky and camaraderie

Who could blame him? – I did

A blast of light and laughter falls on the pavements outside.
I peep in every time the door opens. No one asks me what I want
I have no courage to enter but turning, walk home
Empty handed, rehearsing the story I have to tell,
Planning ways of dealing with their disappointment.

She plays out the same ritual each week.
Light a big fire, make the room warm, keep TV money for when he arrives
Friday’s injunctions-Do not upset him, keep quiet, let him lie on the couch
Leave the bread for him
Keep him happy.

Who could blame her? – I did

Saturday sounds of children, women, chatting across garden fences
Next door’s TV.
Willing her to find another way, I hunch over school jotters
Shutting out my body from her.
‘Just this last time’, I cannot refuse.

Her family name is The Chancellor, this aunt who always has
Blue Riband Biscuits cradled in tins on the top shelf
Whose daughters are well dressed, ‘Just new for Easter’ they say
A sigh, a downward look, a reprimand for bothering her and
‘What is it this time’? hangs in the air. ‘Just five shillings would do’

Reaching into my pocket I exchange the Child Allowance book for the coins.
I hear but don’t hear the litany ‘drunk, useless, do you think I’m made of money’
Cousin Anne wants to show me her new clothes
She pirouettes and laughs
The Chancellor looks on. The Blue Riband biscuits remain in the tin

Who could blame her? – I did

It was fun sometimes cooking on the fire. It did take longer
But then we were not going anywhere.
Trouble was studying by candlelight made my eyes hurt
But it would soon be summer and then no need to pretend.
It was only white lies I told.

Who could blame me? - I did

The shame was worse than the hunger
No one at my school would understand. They must never find out.
Proper school uniform. Collar and cuffs of white starched linen
Mine made of paper pinched from the art class
Nuns, whose life’s work was to remind me of all my sins

Who could blame them? – I did

The sign was unmistakeable, Medici’s glinting gold coins
In contrast to the dark cubicle and the worn wooden floor
Musty smells of clothes and the ticking of clocks.
Eyes straight ahead, tip toes to look taller
It’s two days after Christmas.

Would it have made any difference had I known then that
Queen Isabella had been here before me?
No it would not have made it easier to part with the Timex watch
With the real leather strap.
‘It’s not really worth much’, he said.

I could proclaim-‘Look what I got for Christmas’
I could roll up my sleeve so that it could be seen out of the corner of my eye
I could go on thanking her for such a great gift
Could he not see it was worth more than Spanish jewels
‘I’ll give you two and six pence’

Who could blame him? - I did

I got better at it. Haggling that is.
It was easier when it was his suit that I handed over
Or her rings. They, would be needed again –
A suit for Sunday and rings on her finger to prove that she was really not that poor
Redemption was more than a religious idea.

When she died –too young, I found them –at the back of the kitchen drawer
Years’ worth of pledge tickets marking all the treasures that had never been redeemed
Old envelopes covered with her curly fives and calculations, letters red stamped with ‘Urgent’ demanding payment, threats of eviction.
And a missal, with a well thumbed prayer to St Jude-saint of desperation.

And again I saw her familiar figure at the table,
working out how far this week’s money would go and if Peter could stand being robbed just one more time.
And I heard her say. ‘Nellie, Just wait till you have a good job
Everything will be fine. You’ll take care of us.

Who could blame her- I don’t.

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