Ladies’ Night

By Tobin Tobin

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A dozen women settling round a table,
In the community centre proudly
Muralled in red-white-and-blue
Scrolls, red hands with daggers,

Unzip their winter jackets and wait
For me to give them something
They didn’t know they had.
Last week it was the cooking demonstration,

Tonight they’re getting me, one of the other sort,
The creative writing woman, their guest
In spite of church and politics,
For I am trusted to remember

Some hated school, some never learned to write.
I promise them in these two hours together
We will make a poem
Pieced from all our lives.

We lay out scraps of stories on the table,
Pregnancies and births – my own tale first,
A fragment from our female comedy
Offered in all its colours. One decides

To risk me. She begins:
It was a military hospital,
And I a sergeant’s wife.
First births are always hard,

But we sat up for officers’ inspection
Wearing nighties, with our army-issue babies
In their fishtank costs beside us,
The sheets perfectly folded.

It seems some password has been spoken.
In married quarters, says another,
We made love on mattresses
Still wrapped in polythene

For fear of baby stains. The first three feet
Of paintwork could be fingermarked,
But doortops must be polished daily
For spot checks, gardens paraded,

Army wives always on duty.
Our child was nearly blinded once,
Her father on manoeuvres;
They said he’d have to follow

The army or his family. He chose
To love us best. We live here now.
Legitimate targets. And she smiles at me,
Over the rag-rug poem

We bind with secrecy,
Names, ranks, addresses to be left behind,
Remnants of these salvaged lives,
When I return to mine, the other, side.

From: Word of Mouth, Blackstaff, 1996

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