Garden Party

Driven here by Contact volunteers,
Every summer they come to visit
With the swallows and the stag beetles:
Pale old ladies in faded frocks,
Tenants of lonely London flats,
Survivors of a long cold winter,
Blinking in the bright June sunlight
As they totter up our garden path
With wheelchairs, frames and sticks,
Their names a breeze  of ‘ee’s ’
Tilly, Millie, and Edie
Daisy, Maisie and Annie ’
Women of the Blitz and ration books,
Wearers of aprons and head-scarves,
Smokers of Woodbines and Weights.

Greetings and ailments are exchanged:
Bad knees, glaucomas and operations;
Someone boasts her age;
Others, unable to hear, smile in silence;
And then it’s time to settle
To quartered crustless sandwiches,
Cake and fairly traded tea.

Later, our ancient wind-up gramophone
Grinds through a pile of 78’s ’
Vera Lynn and scratchy arias by Gigli,
a monologue from Gracie Fields.
Then Tillie breaks into sudden song
Her trembling soprano scaling the heights
Of Sally, Sally, Pride of our Alley.

Back in their cars
The tired old visitors
Clutch nosegays of fragrant mint;
We wave goodbye, and return
To the deserted garden,
Saddened by the empty chairs
And moved by Tilly’s parting song.