2021 Poetry Competition Runner-up: “Great Aunt Audrey” by Isabella Mead

 

At fifty-six she sported lace corselettes
and fishnets and bullet-bras and jet necklaces.
She would loiter along the edges of marshes
full-face to the sea-spray and salt-wind and backsplash.

They called her the Black Widow, for she swallowed men:
the sailors screening the salacious shadows
at Tilbury docks, the tail-end of the Thames,
but these days is only sometimes seen

creeping into anecdotes, and out again.
Take Gran: anxious, new job as a waitress,
pencil-skirt and pearls, pin-curls and ballet flats,
upmarket restaurant, a very nice place.

First shift. Oh God, the Black Widow’s in.
Get rid of that whore.
Gran lowers her head.
Oh God, she thinks, that’s my sister-in-law.
“You know her?” “Nah, never seen her before.”

She had torn her stockings, baring the latticework
like a gaping cobweb. Others saw her
pacing the misted edge of the wharf,
watching the white horses break on the water

the night her house was burned to the ground. 
Arson? A disgruntled client? Her husband
didn’t seem bothered when his beige pyjamas
became his only possession. He always said nothing.

To me she’s nothing but a word
I type into Google sixty years later.
Pilgrims would offer lace necklaces
to Saint Audrey of Ely. In the seventeenth century,

these necklaces gave rise to the adjective “tawdry”:
meaning cheap and vulgar
. And I wonder
if Aunt Audrey was ever aware of this;
what she’d make of it, wherever she is,

wandering with the diaspora of relatives
who haunt history’s shorelines and peripheries,
diaphanous as flames, salt wind, blown cobwebs,
discarded lace necklaces, unscattered ashes.

 

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