I seem, at present, to be stuck on the theme of Family Memories. Why this should be so, I do not know, but it is certainly connected with my sense of age and of time passing. However…
There is a group called The Green Room Gals of which I am an honorary member. (How it got its name is another story.) Each month or so – for the meetings are erratic – we gather at someone’s house to share a meal, ideas, our latest writing adventures, gossip and poems – these being composed on a title proposed by one of the members. The most recent title was The Suitcase, hence the following poem.
It is an evocative title and those of you reading this, may have felt a slight shock of recognition, for ‘A Suitcase’ evokes complex memories: of travel, of change, of moving on, of leaving, of selection and perhaps of holiday.
I certainly felt some of this and it just so happens that in my study there is a suitcase tucked under the book case. I had not looked at it for years.. It is small and belongs to a by-gone age. It is what I think was once called a ‘lady’s case’ being light, and small and clothbound. It is the kind of case that was designed to fit on the luggage racks made of woven cord that used to be fitted in railway carriages. We are here talking about the age of steam, of windows that opened with a leather strap, of smoke that blew and clattering rails. I had even forgotten what the suitcase contained, until…
I was not ready for this.
But dutiful… for t’was my request –
“A title to give shape to thought” –
And Robyn, kindly’ had obliged….
Her topic sounded in my heart,
dredging up thoughts without a name,
memories I could not frame.
The suitcase was still waiting there,
hidden within my book-filled room,
un-touched, un-locked, un-opened,
yet, biding the time, it would reveal
the coiled, blue snake of Memory,
at rest within, but poised to strike.
I was not ready for this –
One never is – seventy years swept away!
And the boy sees the case
In his grandmother’s hands
Containing the things that a smart woman needs
Departing for York on the train.
He sees too his mother –
this , some years on – packing
his vests and his best Sunday pants.
Pressing a pound under his socks.
Then a kiss and a wink and a walk
to the bus, the future a blank.
Too fragile for travel, battered and worn
the lock rusted over, the canvas torn.
placed on my table, I open it wide
As I did on the day my mother died.
Remembering how I gathered her things –
Her hand written notes, her blue earings.
Some postcards of Scarbro, a picture of me,
Decorations she kept for the Christmas tree,
Tortoise-shell clips to hold back her hair,
The glasses she lost down the back of a chair,
Poems writ on glass, an old piece of lace –
I’d bundled them all in my grandma’s suit-case.
No, I was not ready for this,
this bite of memory.
But yet I am glad,
glad to see these treasures again…
and my tears…
my tears are not of sadness,
but for a life, well spent,
for a mother I loved,
who was also my friend.