Redeeming Miss Molkeigh

Our Miss Molkeigh used scented soap, no cheap
muck off the Co op shelf, expensive stuff
you sourced in chemists' shops. She wore no make
up, perfect skin all peachy glowing health.

She wore low heels, long skirts and silky-soft
pink cardigans that would lean overboard
to beam at us each morning as she blessed
each head to count us through. Mondays she'd know
if you'd missed Mass and quiz you where you'd been.

She christened us with litanies of love.
We'd nub for treasure: newts and sticklebacks;
the furtive beauty of each leaf and seed;
trace Eden's garden on our classroom walls.
The marvel of creation was her creed
and Blessed Virgin Mary who would help
us all: "My mother named me after her."

She'd slide inside the duvet of your dreams
and spin out magic stories from the past,
weave history into a cloth of gold.
In geography she proved miraculous.
We loved arithmetic. All those who tried
won stars. At Christmastime she organised
the carol concert, crib and pantomime.

Told mum Miss looked just like the Virgin in
my missal. "Saw her in 'The Dirty Duck'
last Friday night: More Mary Magdelene,
I'd say." This truly baffled me. Mum read
my fallen state and ceased immediately.

When Miss got back from lunch, sometimes she'd be
all flushed and smell of peppermint. She'd sink
down at her desk, her breathing drawn out, deep
and slow: "One of my heads again," she'd sigh.
She'd tell us to read silently then give
us poems to copy out or sums to do.

This time she gets back late. Sister turns up,
frowns down at us, ice-browed: we shoulder arms
instinctively then petrify. And when
she leaves, Miss slumps bolt upright in her chair,
subdued, preoccupied, the sacrifice
replete. Cropped pins, veiled hints of traffic fumes:
we're desperate and aching for the bell;
the air hangs heavy and confessional.

by Peter Branson

Peter Branson organises writing workshops. Until recently he was Writer-in-residence for “All Write” run by Stoke-on-Trent Libraries. He has had work published, or accepted for publication, by many mainstream journals, including Acumen, Ambit, Envoi, Magma, The London Magazine, Iota, 14, Fire, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Nottingham, Pulsar, Red Ink and Other Poetry. In the last two years he has had success in several competitions including a first prize in The Envoi International, a second place in The Writing Magazine Open and highly-commendeds in The Petra Kenney and The Speakeasy. His first collection, The Accidental Tourist, was published in 2008.

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