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featured poet, Patricia Bishop ( – 2015)

Patricia Bishop photo

Visiting Alice

Sister Mary Magdalen told us
as we sat cross-legged and steaming
in the Jubilee Hall.
Maisey Smith, sniffing a little,
sat apart, a broad black ribbon
on her arm and a black bow catching
her hair in a single knot.
We were to see her Alice dead,
in a box, on the third floor
of the Margery Street Flats.
We were to remember death
would come to us all and behave.
The girls went first, in pairs.
Most wore summer frocks
with jerseys or cardigans.
Laura’s had tears in the hem
but I had a new blue dress
with cuffs.
Steps, landings, steps
and more steps.
Then number forty-three
its brown door open.
Maurice started crying
so Sister Clement smacked him.
The room smelt of soap,
Alice of disinfectant.
We walked round the coffin
in a slow ring-a-rosie,
crossing our selves,
staring at the candles.
Mrs. Smith in black dress
and black lisle stockings
stood at the head of the box.
No one spoke. Twenty-seven children
making no noise save for the edges
of Maurice’s sobs and our summer
sandals slipping on the polished lino.
Alice had gone from her face
and a neat white frill
covered the scars on her neck.
I didn’t look at her hands.

Patricia Bishop

2nd Prize, National Poetry Competition