Undercover Conversations With Storybook Heroines, IV

by Anna Bendix

And in your wildest did you become
the one with the lamp, the sister dear
to me and them and postage stamps,

famed as the one who cleaned up dirt?

Look how the mud weighs down my skirt
where men they rot. I hear their shrieks, their filthy moans.
You will not spot me flinch, although

I was not born for flies and clots.

I trimmed the lilac, I snapped the thread, the curate
called, I went to bed in sheets Rose laid,
read Ivanhoe. I watched the gate.

I sailed on a creaking ship. I did not let them see me sick.

These severed stumps, burnt limbs, dark death,
the soldiers with their brandied breath and nurses under covers
      creep.
This love and all the rest I see. Discreet

I pinch my inside wrist and quench a nausea

of joy. A piece of luck has come my way. Luck
sour-smelling, sweetly-nursed. Armoured,
as in dreams of Boudicca or Joan of Arc,

this war has made me come unstuck.