Housing Aid – Joan Galwey

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
1988 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicators: Donald Davie, Ronald Blythe

Oh God, it’s Miss T., flouncing through the waiting room.
Gasp and cluck follow her.”Well I must say!”
“Who’s she? The cat’s mother?” Mix of pee and powder.
Uninterceptible. “Where’s Mrs J ?”

Shamelessly peremptory, she collapses stylishly,
Raddled, gloved, breathless. “You’ll have to help me pay.
      Had to get a cab here.
      Cheque’s overdue again.
      Charming driver waiting.”

Mrs J breaks the rules. Splendid Mrs J.

Notice to quit again. “That room. Those stairs.
      Can’t go on with it. Dustbins overflow.
      The man below is rude to me. That actress on my landing
      Steals my milk, reads my mail. I try to make allowances.
      Oh but it’s the limit to ask me to go.”
Suddenly she sings. Lily of Laguna.
Those were the days. “Extremely rich beau
      Lured me to Australia. Dire mistake. Oh well.
      Could have made my name on the stage, you know.”

Decrepit county lady, stony broke for decades,
Getting by in stained georgette and half-bald mink.
Spunky old memories knocking out the misery.
“Just sort this out for me and I’ll be in the pink.”

Charity re-houses her, a ground floor flat.
All needs catered for. God she’s back again.
“Ghastly. The damn place overlooks the cemetery.
      Who could live with that, now? Try it in the rain!”

Her lungs quickly ended it. She phoned from the hospital.
“It’s awful. You must get me out of here.” She cried.
      They keep all my pension.
      They’ve lost my best nightdress.
      I can’t keep the food down.” The next week she died.

Funeral 2.30. A hot summer’s day.
Crawling through traffic jams to the crematorium.
A butch social worker and tired Mrs J.,
Extra-curricular, stretching the lunch break.
No great point to it. Only way to be.
And only just in time. Anxious padre waiting.
Tense niece from Tiverton, yuppy nephew grinning.
“Friends!” they breathe in unison, and the maudlin organ
Urges on the programme, and the friends, in sorrow,
Minding to the brink, implore the Invisible
“House her. Be kind, O God. It’s Miss T.”

Copyright © Joan Galwey 1988

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