by Alison Brackenbury
I own your desk, Eliza, with your story,
the black-spined Bible with your flourished entry.
Your husband, our last farmer, dead at forty
took off the farm of crooked apple trees,
white pail upon the table in our picture.
But you moved on, with your plain kindly daughters
who settled down to marry their farm labourers.
Louisa's anxious child was my grandmother,
Louisa died, bee-stung. Your Ls grew dashing,
lodged by the North Sea, mornings calm, nights lashing.
Life is before and after. Breath hides passion.
Your jet braids jutted out in reckless fashion.
Why did you give my grandmother the Bible,
your last girl's youngest child, as in a fable?
Did you tip your black ink across this table?
I stroke its pool. I wish I was still able
to ask her of you, where small coals would glint
the desk in shepherds' kitchens. She was sent
on trips for an old woman, strangely bent,
to village shops, which sold gunpowder then
which the old woman spooned out, smiled, despatched
each twist, rammed up the flue. Awed children watched
soots fall like rain, black laughter I can catch.
What good can one desk do? Give me your match.