Sheila and the Honourable Member 5.


Sheila’s graveyard

My ground is sour and sacred
with the bones of all my mothers

buried in me is one who worked
at tubs and maths and hymnbooks
she manufactured options
and climbed into Nepal
with a broken leg

buried in me is one who
bewildered with her wit.
anthroposophist chiromancer
violinist and witch
she was haughty for women
she would batter and woo
them in to life

buried in me is one who stormed
the City Council in a first
front row attack
she wore chains as if
they came from Paris

I am four women. one you see
married and saying yes
on the telephone
opening doors and galas
cutting ribbons and
tying them in bows
polishing vertebrae
to decorate the table

the others are making war:
trapped in me their bones
do battle quietly, quietly
they meet like swords in clay

stay at the gate
stay at the dinner party
chat with the nice door lady
here is haunted holy ground
stay at the dinner party

Rachel McAlpine 1977

Here, Sheila has borrowed my own female predecessors. In turn the verses list a few highly selective features of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Sheila feels these formidable women are grinding away inside her while she is meekly doing her feeble duty as the wife of a member of parliament. Poor Sheila.

Sheila and the Honourable Member 1.


Now’s a good time to republish this sequence of poems about a Member of Parliament, his wife Sheila, and the other woman, the lady with purple carpets. I wrote them 40 years ago, swept up in the second wave of feminism. Today the power imbalance between the genders in the stressful environment of parliament has changed … not much. 

This is me, Sheila, talking

this is me (Sheila) talking
I have seen fingers
crack in the ring
like girdle scones

this is me (Sheila) here
this is me this is me
I have seen women settle like
junket, I have seen water curdle

listen this is me
this is Sheila this is me
I am a person
who knows things

I have a small brown voice
here it is in my handbag
south southwest southeast
little voice is restless

these are my hands the skin
is lifting drifting freckling
covers the blood lumping
inside the bones are grinding
these are my hands crackling

I am not ready to die

listen to me it is always
nearly too late
this is me (Sheila) talking
this is me

Rachel McAlpine 1977

If you appreciate these rip-roaring, pretty vulgar poems, please share.

Photo of an older woman's hands
Our hands talk. Let our voices also speak.




the Way of the Wife
the sermon on the tea-towel

When I read these instructions on how to be a good wife, I’m bewildered. Somewhere, sometime, a woman wrote these words, that’s not in doubt. But did she write it for the money, knowing there was profit to be made from self-improvement books even a century ago, or was she slyly and cynically undermining her lord and master?

Pic and poem by rachel mcalpine cc by 2.0
Daily prompt from the Daily Post,