(after William Carlos Williams)
A patch of dirt – this wide, this long –
is given to the bones of my grandmother,
born in the three-room shack some steps away,
perched on a hillside sleek with night soil,
until her father finally builds an outhouse.
Not yet seventeen, she’s settled on a stranger
to her village, boasting medals and a wound –
stories of Gallipoli. He does not tell his real name
but says this with a grin – You’ll never guess.
Over time, all questions answered with a slap.
He assumes her land with ease, signing papers
with an X. On the birth of their first child –
a sickly girl – he breaks up all the furniture.
Grandmother begs the church for chairs, a table.
Mends the bed. Breeds three sons – grandfather
pats her head three times – buries them behind the shack.
She drops their names into the dirt every time
she tends a crop – potatoes. Neighbours prize the sacks
only she can save from blight. Grandfather snares
a younger woman who soon runs. Grandmother burns
left-over stew most days, learns to dodge his hand,
turns her face away when he stumbles in at night,
flops, fully-clothed, on the infirm bed, reeks
of beer, nudges up against her back. She splays
both hands against a peeling wall, breathing hard –
not passion but her will to live. Bears another son.
Buries him. The sickly girl helps with the chores,
rarely speaks, excels at school. Outstanding
debts lead her to marry young – the pub landlord –
two decades older. Staggering behind the bar
at the wedding do, grandfather pours large drinks
for his fast friends. His daughter – she’s my mother – pays
to see him in the ground days later, refusing the word Stranger
on the headstone. Grandmother says her land will prosper
now, plans to raze the shack until a will is found,
signed X, that names her son-in-law – my father –
as the owner. He builds another pub, offers her a room
with a brand-new bed. Back bent, she stands
above her ailing crop, hacks up spit, says this –
If you pass by, take whatever the hell you want.
6 thoughts on “2022 Poetry Competition Winner: “Female Dedication” by Jenny Mitchell”
Pingback: Mitchell wins 2022 Poetry Competition with “Female Dedication” | Shooter Literary Magazine
Very powerful and admirably concise to deliver its punch
A work of art. Flows like a river through life. Very moving. Definitely deserves to have first place.
So powerful and evocative, and a sad poignant reminder of my own mother’s brute of a father. Jenny encapsulates despair and horror, matched evenly with fortitude, courage, and hope.
The stoicism of a woman.
Beautiful work as ever, many congrats x