“Duct tape, milk, shilling, towels” by Katy Darby
11th February, 1963
I have left the milk out for the children;
the milk in the mugs, and the bread.
Now, what else
The shilling in the meter;
(the meter must be fed).
And what, what, what else?
The list is by the – is in the –
the list is on the bed.
Steady, girl, steady. A mother doesn’t panic.
A mother has a place for everything,
even her heart
even her –
Duct tape! Duct tape. Towels are in the bathroom,
clean and folded like unused promises.
One for a pillow, and one
for around the door where the draught gets through.
This is a slippers house, a house of ill winds,
cold air rising over your feet like water.
Virginia Woolf had stones in her pockets –
a crumpled tissue
a hand that does not shake
I do my best work after dark,
when the children are asleep, when my sister-self
stands in the black window, beyond the starved lights.
She is neither happy nor unhappy, the woman who hovers
before Primrose Hill, owl-eyed and waiting
but she knows where I should be.
Duct tape, milk, shilling, towels …
what else do I need?
One more cup of tea.
In the space between
the kettle rising to a scream of steam
and the hiss to silence
when I lift it off the gas
I could stop.
Go to bed, turn on the radio,
listen to the ticking trees.
I could write another poem:
I wrote ten thousand, one for every day
I didn’t do it.
But I pour the water on the leaves
(and where’s the milk?
in the mugs, for the children).
Because it has been so long,
the nights so cold, and the crying –
the baby, the toddler, and me,
all crying and not knowing why, except
we are so good at it by now, (it comes easy, like poetry)
this loneliness without solitude.
And all the love in me doubled and torn like a rag
and stuffed in the cracks –
Because I’ve been saving it up
so long unopened
like a box of chocolates
the lucky cigarette you never smoke
because it’s the last, and then
you’ll have nothing.
You do it until you can’t do it
and then you do it
Duct tape. Milk. Shilling. Towels.
Now close the door.