Humdingers

The Great Depression

I must craft what I can to remake what her pedalled Singer
drilled for, cloth mastered by a machine.
The woman was a humdinger.

So whenever I watch her working by the wood-stove I see
my mother the dressmaker an empress of clothes
as rich as the primrose bee.

Neighbours for miles around lined up to be measured
for a few worn shillings carefully treasured
by the dresser, who scrubbed floors too.

Her hands: as gnarled as my father’s who worked in the quarry;
he planted dynamite on the dole,
he spaded dirt, his soul

revolted and broke. He also was a humdinger.
Cloth and dirt. Cloth and dirt.
But hummed away the Singer.

And nightly on the wash-house bench, Thump!
went a bootmaker’s hammer, repairing the man,
and neighbour’s shoes for shillings.

They were young, and I the bewildered one who knelt
at their knees for stories they heard when as young,
and for songs, for they were singers.

Cloth and dirt. Cloth and dirt. And the times
to conquer. They walked me amongst the wattle
and fought to win me the battle.

The wounds they suffered taught me the craft of cloth
and the scrub of floors and the use of hammer
and spade, and they were remade

in me, the boy who sold clubbed vermin in old
tobacco tins to council men
for pennies: penury, for a child.

But none sang of this on summernights of laughter
where singing neighbours sat down before
the stars were crossed; nor after.

Cloth and dirt, cloth and dirt and vermin
till the boy was taken by the war.
Left dumb, were the man and woman.