2022 Poetry Competition Winner: “Female Dedication” by Jenny Mitchell

(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

  1. Pingback: Mitchell wins 2022 Poetry Competition with “Female Dedication” | Shooter Literary Magazine

  2. 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.


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