David Lewis Paget
Family Skeleton - Poem by David Lewis Paget
‘I am pure, forever now,’
The words scratched on a skull,
That I dug up one morning
In a garden, back in Hull.
I didn’t know just who it was
Or where the skull had been,
The skull itself the only one
That knew what it had seen.
There were no other bones, they were
All missing, neck to toe,
Perhaps they’d gone on walkabout
And said, ‘We’ll let you know! ’
The skull was left to rest in peace
Beneath a flower bed,
Where jonquils wavered in the breeze
Above this lonely head.
The bed was bound by sleepers
That were there before the time
My grandparents had owned the house -
Who covered up this crime?
They must have known, had surely known
Whose head it was, deceased,
Before they laid that garden bed
Hacked off the head, at least!
For someone scraped those five short words
Bit deep into the bone,
Had used the knife that cut its throat?
Or merely, some sharp stone.
I held the skull beneath the tap
To wash away the dirt,
The empty sockets stared at me
Relentless, in their hurt.
Was this a male or female skull?
I found it hard to say,
The teeth were young and pearly white
I called it ‘she’ that day,
Old Jeb, the gardener came round
And saw, and burst in tears,
‘I haven’t seen that pretty smile
In more than fifty years! ’
‘Her name was Clementine, ’ he said,
‘A little pantry maid,
Back in the days of service when
We all were underpaid,
When I was just a lad myself
And new into the fold,
Your crusty great grandfather ruled,
Old Ebenezer Gold! ’
‘We weren’t allowed to mix back then,
We slept on different floors,
He took a special interest in
The womenfolk, indoors.
He’d stalk around at midnight, checking
Under every bed,
Would threaten us with vengeance from
The Lord above, he said.’
‘I’d meet with Clementine outside,
We’d use the potting shed,
She’d tease and tempt me daily, dare me
Sneak into her bed,
Then one day she came crying, but
She wouldn’t tell me why,
Just said that Ebenezer was
A sneak, a dirty spy! ’
‘I thought she must have got the sack,
She simply disappeared,
And nobody would mention her
Their lips were sealed, I fear.
He really had a hold on us
He oversaw the plots,
And said I had to seed that bed
With blue Forget-Me-Nots.’
He died near forty years ago
So Jeb and I agreed,
There wasn’t any point to raise
A scandal, without need,
I told him to put back the skull,
He cried, and kissed it lots;
Pulled out the jonquils, planted seeds
Of blue Forget-Me-Nots!
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