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Childcare in the Slaughteryard               Dog-Day Afternoon

         The Voice of Experience           Sleeping in Eng Lit


Childcare in the Slaughteryard


Knacker Brown, her grandfather,

fed her on sights and smells

and little presents of boiled meat

hauled clean from the seething broth.


In winter, when the carcasses

lay cold on the sloping flags,

the boiler house breathed warmth;

the fierce walls of the vats,

thick with their years-old grease,

rose into wreaths of steam.

Drawn by their dangerous heat

she edged carefully between them,

hearing the comfortable bubbling

she feared to see when lifted tall.


She grew up close-acquainted

with blood’s many lovely reds

and the sequence of its thickening:

an opalescent stripiness that seeped

in rivulets and slowed to form

flat  pads of solid-seeming matter:

rubbery, perhaps possible to peel

and lift? She prodded with her toe;

never touched with fingertips.


Her hands stroked and stroked

smooth quiet necks, so slack,

deep knife-slits almost sealed.

The bleeding done.


Pauline Keith

published in Solitaire:  Templar Poetry 2007

ISBN 13 - 978-1-906285-04-3;

and Watermark   Flaxbook 2  (online at www.Litfest.org)




Dog-Day Afternoon


Damp heat and thick silence;

bird-movement minimaljust

butterflies, haphazard, diligent.


My baby, in her long-legged basket,

sleeps on the verandahshaded by blossom

and drugged with the scent of frangipani.


She does not stir at the rifle-cracks I recognise

from elsewhere, pictures deep-imprinted.  I leave Lucy,

pelt across wide space to next door’s empty bungalow.


Too late.  No silence herewhite-walled verandah

splashed with blood, three pups already dead

and the bitch, shot through the belly, screaming.


I shout at them, two startled Tamils, one Malay

who holds the gun.  I stretch for ittry

to make him finish herhe shies back


from me: white woman, ranting gibberish

wilder than the bitch?  I’ve no words

to tell them all I want is her quick death.


They staresomehow get a rope around her neck,

drag her, writhing and half-choked, inside their truck;

doors slam, they drive away.  The air grows quiet.


Lucy is still sleeping.  The red of bougainvillea

hangs safely over her.  One mason-wasp

explores the whiteness of our wall.


Pauline Keith

2nd Prize-winner, The Bridport Prize, 2005

and published in anthology, ISBN 1-904537-45-6





The Voice of Experience


Dear stranger on the Inter-City,

forgive some cautious questions

before this brief acquaintance

gains significant momentum.


I already know I’m drawn to you:

your smooth-worn Aussie hat

shading well-travelled eyes;

your handshake, courteous,

but more a way to touch

after close exchange of talk,

phone numbers, e-mail details.


Well-met, no longer total stranger,

you live wide-spaced hours from me.

I find I want you near.




would you make me listen to Scott Joplin,

barber-shop quartets or Welsh male choirs?


Or tell me how you don’t like dresses

with buttons down the front?


Do your gardening-skills depend

on mass-murder of wild life?


Could those lips make soggy sounds

with cereal?  Breakfast, day on day…


Would I still love your shoulder-curve

if it dragged the duvet off me in the night?


This isn’t premature;  think hard,

write your list.  Do we dare to start?


Pauline Keith

4th Prize-winner, the Peterloo Competition 2005

and published in anthology.  ISBN 1-904324-31-2





Sleeping in Eng Lit


‘You mean you let him sleep?’

‘No point in waking him.  He was


                    ‘But in your lesson!’

Her eyes don’t yet reflect

that I am pleased.

                                    That class

have let me in.  We slam the door

on seethings, apathy, explosions

- all the negatives of school -

policed by the prowling Deputies.

This group has no feud that I can

feel – doesn’t splinter dangerously.


There are off-days, some gloom;

blessedly, no bloody-mindedness.


So when John laid his head

on his spread arms while I

held forth on Thomas Hardy,

I’d seen his late night eyes:

this wasn’t meant to undermine.

Paul, beside him, grinned at me,

signing should he prod him.  I

waved my hand to leave him be.


We talked on, over his dark hair

flopped across one hand, the other

flung to hang a little off the desk.


He looked childlike as he woke.

But his grown-up self took over,

came to murmur his regrets

as 5B moved on out.


‘It’s a compliment,’ I told him.


(If the DES were different,

I’d like it on my reference.)


‘You felt safe enough to sleep.’


*DES:  Department of Education and Science


Pauline Keith

published in Staple 30;

republished, Staple 50, 2001,

20 Years of Twentieth Century Poetry (Staple, 1980-2000),

ISBN 1 901185 02 8


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