VAD Hospital, Saffron Walden, 1915

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.

 

@lukewrightpoet || lukewright.co.uk
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