Thursday, 6 October 2016

Saint Helen's 1957


They used to take left-handed girls
And tie that hand behind our backs
With lengths of cut skipping rope.

Everything including floors and pipes
Was bottle green, navy blue, teal,
Mustard yellow, cream or brown.

In the winter our woollen corsets
Were stitched firmly to our skirt-slips
To prevent cold draughts getting in.

I kept a used lollipop stick in my desk
And tragically I named it Dolly,
Reassuring it during long lessons.

I came out of there with nothing.
“How can I protect myself?”
I asked the nurse at sixteen.

She said, “Have you ever heard
Of the word No?” A good girl
Marries every man she sleeps with. 

A paddle on the flesh of the bottom,
A wooden ruler across open palms
If we are caught fidgeting at all.

My husband ditched me by Telegram. 
He was halfway up Mount Everest
With a research team from Oxford.

We learned to write right-handed,
Hiding the truth behind ourselves,
Writing fluently, falsely, correctly.

The ability to write with the left
Comes back sometimes in dreams.
I can …almost… do it when awake.