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Her voice was tattered by
a half-century of cigarettes,
by being ninth-of-fifteen,
always yelling to be heard.
There was velvet in it,
but it was a raggy gown of a voice,
washed threadbare
flapping on a line.

"In my day,
there were none of this …

the voice would creak
as Great-granna's pale hands
flicked over the regalia
that went with cleaning
at mother's house.
Flick-flack, over vacuum cleaner,
squeeze mop, polish in a can;
flick-flack, scattering contempt like dust.

"On our knees, we was,
scrubbing the step,
knuckles rubbed raw
in cold water.
She'd pause.
"Girls today …"

Faces hidden from her,
my mother and I would
mouth the words
at each other:
"You don't know
you're born

My snort would
bring her gaze
snapping round;
She'd cup my face, and
breathe licorice into it,
between the gaps in her grin.

I was just apron high, and
her hands on my cheeks
were soft and scratchy
as the lace handkerchiefs
that she counted away,
three hundred
and thirty two of them,
tucking them into the top drawer
of her tallboy, the day she came,
defeated by filigreed bones,
to live with us.

They lay between sheets of tissue
and dessicated freesias,
each an exquisite work of art:
hundreds of tiny, even stitches,
shaping strawberries and sunflowers,
reeds and roses, curling
around dates.


For all their beauty,
they were useless:
Mother was weeping as we sorted
and packed Great-Granna's things,
but they were
too fragile to stem her tears.

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