(for my grand-daughter)

There are many nouns for snow in Inuit
and many English words for women -
tart, cow, bitch, slag, bint.

The Tommies brought it back from Africa.
They used it for the whores they bought
in the brothels of Tobruk.

The Arabic for girl – in English it’s spat
like pith from pomegranate; in Arabic
stroked as if angora rabbit.

Oh let not the rabid world bite my linnet.
If only I could wrap her in felt and fat
in a wilderness of icy tempests.


About Grief

About grief they were never wrong
the old soul singers with minor chords
and grace notes from the field songs,
Gospel, blues and hymns stored
in DNA, a hot line to village
dialects, long forgot, or rhythm
felt on a mother’s back, the voltage
of pestle on mortar pounding yam.

Grief doesn’t need words of depth
just clichés pulled along with a guitar
or sax, so on the sticky dance floor
you relax into a stranger’s warmth.
Our sweetest songs are those that tell
the saddest thought. As a white girl
in a convent I heard a truth explained
about men, women and their crop of pain.

Otis bewailed his woman on a bus
to Detroit or Aretha’s voice spilt
from some deep wound like she was
sweating it. It was music distilled
as homemade brew – you drank
it down, coarse and unfiltered, a taste
of grace in bitterness and wondered
if you could endure the weight
life was sure to load upon your back.

Copyright © Pauline Plummer

This poem was a prizewinner in the 2010 Yorkshire Open Poetry competition.

Thirteen ways of looking at the hat

At the sight of the whiskery tweed,
the flesh of crushed velvet,
the sex of fox fur
even the hatless cry out sharply.

Among twenty flowing hats
tight to the skull, the Russian ushanka
strides in the icy air of the Metro.

The hat refuses backcombing,
chignons and waterfalls,
Heidi plaits and Mohicans.

My unworn hats whirl in the hallway
downcast in the glum light of long-lasting bulbs.

I do not know which to prefer
the hot-pink wedding fascinator, the striped
wool cloche or the fringed straw boater.

My grandmother is flying to the milliners
with her winnings –
the pillbox must match her mustard gloves.

Oh hatless women of England
with your hair dampening
do you not see icicles fill the long windows?

Think of fine veils like webs
to catch your food; of grey cloth
to mirror your pale eyes.

I know noble hats - head-ties for women
at Nigerian weddings, the stiff damask
like a heron in flight.

Love was moving the man in a velvet cap
with the brim
turned to the back for gambling.

In the dance halls of Kingston
the trilby shifts at a jaunty angle
picks out a lover under half-closed lids.

At the sight of a young face
hood overcast like a monk at vespers,
the old cry out sharply.

It was evening all afternoon
and the Sikh unwound
the waterfall of yellow turban
till his hair spilt on the ridge of his shoulders.

Copyright © Pauline Plummer

This poem was a prizewinner in the Café Writers national poetry competition.

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