I should like to write a poem for my mother
who made dresses in our small bedroom upstairs
where she banged steam out of pleats
and treadled her pedalboat with Singer written in gold,
listening to Mrs Dale’s Diary.
I never thought she was special
because she sometimes made dresses for ladies
with big bottoms who couldn’t buy clothes
in the shops. I don’t have to go out to work she explained
because women only went out
if their husbands didn’t earn very much,
It’s only pin-money she’d say, her mouth full of pins
like a hedgehog, kneeling down to take up a hem,
but I’d sooner make dresses than housework,
or look after babies. I wasn’t even a girl
she could make frocks for, only grey shorts
though she made me a stuffed Punch-and-Judy
and took me to tea at Swan and Edgar’s
and sometimes one of her ladies would bring her a picture
from Vogue to cut out the patterns from newspaper,
and said how clever she was
but I didn’t think she was clever,
not like dad who could make model aeroplanes
and brought home oolah each Friday.
So I grew up surrounded by words
like bishop and raglan and Dior and Hartnell.
I’m just the little woman round the corner she’d say
Although I knew she was not round the corner
but upstairs treadling her pedalboat downriver
each afternoon, out to the open sea.