The ancient oak on Freshwell Street
is jaundiced in the Autumn sun
as Clementina clips her way to work.
A window pane plays mirror to
the mid-blue of her uniform
and though she’s late, she stops stock-still and stares.
The red-cross on the armband,
the starched white of the hat,
black boots that pinch, the bag balm on her palms.
Pulled-in, pinned back, with pale-blue eyes
it takes the girl a breathless beat
to realise it’s her who’s staring back.
It’s Clem. Our Clem. The messy-haired
adventurer and story queen,
pied piper to her brothers, lost in June.
But no one’s called her Clem for months,
those summers seems an age ago.
They linger like a half-remembered tune.
The chance to go and do her bit
had won against her life at home
she’d kissed her mum and hugged the boys to bits.
But as she pitted guilt against
adventure with the VAD
she never stopped to think what it might do.
And now she knows: this woman here
will never lead a squawking gang
of children through the Essex water fields.
And as the thought occurs to her
it darts across the pale blue eyes,
she blinks the thing away and turns for work.