One of the wisest ladies I ever met was 'Aunt' Ellen Collins, the mother of my friend Georgie Collins. I got to know both of them, and the extended family, when they were illegally encamped whilst awaiting a verdict on the provision of an official site by Hampshire County Council. The caravans were drawn up on a piece of derelict land next to the M3 motorway. Conditions were appalling - mud everywhere and one cold water tap plumbed illicitly into a mains pipe serving the entire group of families. Eventually they were evicted and there was another two years of illegal stopping before a council site was provided. During that wait Aunt Ellen died of cancer.
The poem is shared with Magpie Tales.
BEBEE ELLEN’S MERRIPEN*
Sometimes they stand in twos
and threes at the edge
of the road, arms folded,
eyes unfocussed, expecting nothing
but more of the same. Dogs bark
staccato over the pulse of generators.
Washing flickers between the vans,
random semaphore, and clocks
run slow. Sun rises over the wasteland,
sets behind the chain link fence.
And on Sunday old Aunt Helen died.
Inside her trailer mourners fidget,
watched by the gold-haloed faces
of her best Crown Derby plates.
No-one speaks but half-words form
in the gas fire’s popping, in the wind
around the broken door. Holding flowers
and a card he cannot read, brush-headed
Johnny, the boxer hero, racks tears
into a cushion. Sister Lizzie
glances sideways, gnaws a fingernail.
Traffic raises curtains in the rain
and Georgie stands where his mother
used to sit at night with her roll-ups
and her pint of tea. Arms folded
and his eyes unfocussed, he dreams
awake, pondering atavistic visions
of the fires of Little Egypt,
of the briar and the gorse,
of slower tides than these
that pull us all from history
and into the new lands.
*Bebee Ellen’s Merripen: Aunt Ellen’s Death in Anglo-Romani.
This poem appears in ANCIENT LIGHTS by Dick Jones, published by Phoenicia Publishing - www.phoeniciapublishing.com/ancient-lights.html.