Merchantesse

Some would say the woman with long red hair merely sells reclaimed clothes; she doesn’t call out her wares; doesn’t lean on people to buy unwanted goods; doesn’t exclaim ‘beautiful’ when someone tries something on; doesn’t cluck, smile or pamper. She sits quiet, still and reading outside her stall, waiting for people to find her and buy her merchandise.

But to those touched by the butterfly’s wings, clothes are jewels. And when I sat at her feet for the seventh year, she may have recognised my aura and, I am almost certain, told me a tale.

“I dig these clothes from gold mines, I steal these beauties from the washing lines of kings, in my cave I keep silver spiders aweaving silken webs, I sweep dew drops from fresh smelling early morning grass and stitch them on as sequins, I snip vivid rainbows with scissors as sharp as words and hang them upon angels to ascertain the fit.

“And more than this,” she said; “my buttons are the imaginations of wise men mistaken for fools, my wool is wound by storytellers, my pockets are filled deep with the rich promise of new life and my sleeves are as long as the breath of wind. My shoes have travelled the loaded road of dreamers and collected the heavy dust of prayer.”

I went to the rail where the clothes were hanging – cerise, rose, pitch, scarlet, emerald and indigo. With new eyes I saw each crease was a quest for answers, every seam was a river, decorations were celebrations, slips and tears were crags and ravines and hats were mountain peaks.

As I paid for my chosen garment with a poem, the woman with long red hair raised her eyes in slight acknowledgement and turned back to her book as though she had not uttered a word.

The Birth

Nine o’clock clammy night

black as welsh cattle.

 

Came to us talking of imminent birth

Out there, he said. Were we up to it?

Yes, he would be along later,

– after Match of the Day.

 

Moon rising, we met his lassitude

with a casual ‘maybe’,

but quick mac’d and booted,

torches flashing on the cow-licked field.

 

Hello, giant moon-blessed shadow.

We stopped; the cow stood, bearing down,

breath hard and harsh,

she minded by sympathetic aunty.

Shush, then, Charlie black cat,

mischievous annoyance

grass-dancing around her

black belted body.

 

Eleven O’Clock. When?

Inexperienced midwives, we,

watchful and distant, waiting.

Then came striding,

wielding giant forceps, he,

confidently night-wards.

 

One o’clock: Mucoused arms

deep in steaming buckets.

In our stinking, straining

eye bulging exhaustion,

we came of age

as the calf slipped from her, to be

tongue-tickled in warm, damp grass,

aunty traipsing off to herald the new arrival.

 

He, tired, emotional, nodded thanks,

and we, looking back, reluctantly retiring,

whooping, giving high-fives and mooing.