Thursday, 1 November 2018

A poem by Catherine Baker

Borrowing a mother

First I borrowed my father’s mam with her starched pinny,
false teeth, watery eyes and hard, lovely kisses. Kittens and me
under her arms and laughter always round the corner.

Wil Snot’s was smiling and polished to platinum with nails.
A cabinet locked with pretties, from her sailor husband,
never home but a doll found in every port.

Auntie Vi let me stay, sleeping in eider. Made cakes so light
she said they’d float out the window. Drank black tea
which was odd and had learned to drive, very badly, in the war.

Mam Brynderw, her cheeks as soft and furry as a chinchilla.
Her house smelling of the sweet Welsh cakes she fed me,
until the bloody cancer ate her up, slow and skinny.

Alison’s mum only wore black. Arms like a wrestler.
I saw her pull a calf out of a cow, no trouble.
She smoked a pipe in secret and taught me how to spit.

Mrs. Phillips, up the lane, always bought my Sunny Smiles
babies, and gave them names. Let me plant her
vegetables and told me never to marry a man.

Sian’s was exotic, they called her Esmeralda
She read my palm, said I’d grow up fat and happy.
Said not to wear short skirts or I’d have to powder my bum.

Bessie Butchers gave me Dr. Whites, said Hooray, babies!
Then introduced me to amazing Black Magic,
I liked Montelimar best, although it took a filling off.

Flossy Pop, ran the pub and in between pulling pints ironed
everything, even knickers and socks. Let me have a go
while she had a fag and gave me a swift drag or two.

Last of all I borrowed my husband’s mum. She could
make beds with hospital corners. Knew the value of a
stiff drink and how to tell you she loved you without saying it.

Catherine Baker’s poetry is often about people and places – reflecting the love she has for the language, history and landscape of her native West Wales.

In 2018 she was chosen to read a selection of her poems at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival.

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