for my sister Polly 1950–2004
You had to go to bed ahead of us
even then, while your two older brothers
grabbed another hour downstairs.
The seven-year gap
was like a generation between us.
You played the princess,
swanning about the house
in your tablecloth wedding dress,
till we told you your knickers were dirty
and you ran upstairs to change.
Your hair was tied up
in plaits on top of your head,
showing the parting down the back
as you marched out of the room.
It wouldn’t be long
till we were asking you to dance,
practising our jiving
for the Feather’s Club Ball at the Lyceum.
Nobody knew so well
how to judge the turns
with perfectly tensed arms,
your ponytail flying back and forth
to ‘Party Doll’ by Buddy Knox.
For my speech on your wedding day
all I had to do
was read out the words
to Nick Lowe’s ‘I Knew the Bride
When She Used to Rock ’n’ Roll’.
You used to do the pony,
you used to do the stroll,
but the bride in her wedding dress
spinning round on top of the cake,
wound down to a sense of loss
when your coach didn’t come
and questions of identity
rained on your party.
The bride turned out
to be less a princess
than a walk-on part
as a lady-in-waiting
in a film of Cinderella,
The Slipper and the Rose.
A life of go-sees and
castings, followed by
the odd screen test, gave way
to a different sort of test,
with shadows for faces.
When you first crossed over
into that wintry place
you said you had a feeling even then.
The different parts of you
turned against one another,
as if they could hear you thinking.
‘What you don’t realise’, you said,
in your new winter bonnet,
‘is that hair goes with everything.’
From I Knew the Bride. Reproduced with kind permission from Faber & Faber.