The Alley - Poem by Lola Ridge
Because you are four years old
the candle is all dressed up in a new frill.
And stars nod to you through the hole in the curtain,
(except the big stiff planets
too fat to move about much,)
and you curtsey back to the stars
when no one is looking.
You feel sorry for the poor wooden chair
that knows it isn’t nice to sit on,
and no one is sad but mama.
You don’t like mama to be sad
when you are four years old,
so you pretend
you like the bitter gold-pale tea—
if you don’t drink it up pretty quick
a little gold-fish
will think it is a pond
and come and get born in it.
It’s hot in our street
and the breeze is a dirty little broom
that sweeps dust into our room
and bits of paper out of the alley.
You are not let to play
with the children in the alley
But you must be very polite—
so you pass them and say good day
and when they fling banana skins
you fling them back again.
There is no one to play with
and the flies on the window
buzz and buzz…
…you can pull out their legs
and stick pins in their bodies
but still they buzz…
and mama says:
When Nero was a little boy
he caught flies on his mama’s window
and pulled out their legs
and stuck pins in their bodies
and nobody loved him.
Buzz, blue-bellied flies—
buzz, nasty black wheel
of mama’s machine—
you are the biggest fly of all—
you have the loudest buzz.
I hear you at dawn before the locusts.
But I like the picture of the Flood
and the little babies getting drowned….
If I were there I would save them,
but as I can’t save them
I like to watch them
When mama buys of Ling Ho,
he smiles very wide
and picks her the largest loquots.
The greens-man gave her a cabbage
and she held it against her black bodice
and said what a beautiful green it was
and put it on the table
as though it had been a flower.
But next day we boiled and ate it with salt.
It was our dinner.
I found Janie on my pillow.
Janie is made of rubber.
Her red and blue jacket won’t come off.
Christmas dinner was green and white
chicken and lettuce and peas
and drops of oil on the salad
smiley and full of light
like the gold on the lady’s teeth.
But mama said politely
Thank you, we are dining out.
She wouldn’t let you take one pea
to put in the hole where the whistle was
at the back of Janie’s head,
so Janie should have some dinner
So you went to the park with biscuits
and black tea in a bottle.
You feel very sad
when you climb on the fence
to watch mama out of sight.
The women in the alley
poke their heads out of doorways
and watch her too.
You know her
by the way she holds her shoulders
till she is only a speck
in a chain of specks—
till she is swallowed up.
that day after day
you were to watch for her face
and it didn’t come back?
it were to drop out of the string of white faces
like the pearl out of my chain
I never found again?
Mabel minds you while mama is out,
she washes while she sings
Three blind mice!
they all run away from the farmer’s wife
who cut off their tails
with a carving knife—
Wind blows out Mabel’s sheets,
way you blow in a bag before you burst it.
Wind has a soapy smell.
It’s heavier’n sun
that lies all over you without any weight
and makes you feel happy
and crinkly like bubbling water.
There’s no sun on the empty house—
you can’t see in its windows
that watch you out of their corners.
Perhaps there’s a big spider there
spinning gray threads over the windows
till they look like dead people’s faces….
Jimmie’s hair is white as a white mouse.
His lashes are gold as mama’s wedding ring
and his mouth feels cool and smooth
like a flower wet with rain.
You wouldn’t believe Jimmie was different…
till he showed you….
Blind wet sheets
flapping on the lines…
sun in your eyes,
dark gold sun
full of little black spots,
you have to blink and blink…
round eyes of Jimmie….
Jimmie’s blue jumper…
blue shadow of wall…
all the world holding still
as when a clock stops…
streets still… people still…
no streets… no people…
only sky and wall…
sun glaring bright as God
down at you and Jimmie…
shadow like a purple cloth
trailing off the wall…
Wild wet sheets
flapping in the wind…
big slippered feet flapping too…
rushing up the alley…
houses closing up again…
windows looking round…
… Mabel pulls you in the gate and shakes you
and tells you not to tell your mama…
And you wonder
if God has spoiled Jimmie.
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