Whoever She Was

Carole Ann Duffy

They see me always as a flickering figure

on a shilling screen. Not real. My hands,

still wet. sprout wooden pegs. I smell the apples

burning as I hang the washing out.

Mummy, say the little voices of the ghosts

of children on the telephone. Mummy

 

A row of paper dollies, clean wounds

or boiling eggs for soldiers. The chant

of magic Words repeatedly. I do not know.

Perhaps tomorrow. If we're very good.

The film is on a  loop. Six silly ladies

torn in half by baby fists. When they

think of me, I'm bending over them at night

to kiss. Perfume. Rustle of silk. Sleep tight.

 

Where does it hurt? A scrap of echo clings

to the bramble bush. My maiden name

sounds wrong. This was the playroom.

There are the photographs. making masks

from turnips in the candlelight. In case they come.

 

Whoever she was, forever their wide eyes watch her

as she shapes a church and steeple in the air.

She cannot be myself and yet I have a box

of dusty presents to confirm that she was here.

You remember the little things. telling stories

or pretending to be strong. Mummy's never wrong.

You open your dead eyes to look in the mirror

which they are holding to your mouth.