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J.C Sturm and grandson. Image supplied.
J.C Sturm and grandson. Image supplied.

BooksFebruary 22, 2019

The Friday Poem: ‘In loco parentis’ by JC Sturm

J.C Sturm and grandson. Image supplied.
J.C Sturm and grandson. Image supplied.

Following last week’s revelations about James K Baxter, poetry editor Ashleigh Young presents a poem by Baxter’s wife, the late Jacquie Sturm.


In Loco Parentis

for Ethel and Bert


Eleven years old in domestic service

Blacking other children’s boots and only

One day off a month to visit mother.

That was her. He counted himself lucky

With a job at thirteen mucking in

Planting out other people’s gardens

For a roof, a bed, a bite to eat.


These things I never knew, or how

In his successful prime

Failure brought him down

With a flying tackle, sickness

Kicked him literally in the balls.

She found it easier to humour

An invalid than wait for

A philanderer to come home,

Praised God for his retribution

Gave thanks for her answered prayer.

Nor do I know when love-hate

Became a kind of anxious caring

living together, a duty not a joy


Or why they took me in. Maybe

Her menopausal hunger to be needed

One more time, sniffed me out,

A rare impulse to do a lasting good

Persuaded him to give

A motherless child a home.


Twenty years they planted, nurtured

Trained, pruned, grafted me

Only to find a native plant

Will always a native be.


How being out of step, place, tune, joint

In time became a preference

Not a pain, hardly matters now.

More profitable to recall instead

Daily lessons in caring and sharing

Beyond necessity, her singing

Around the house when there was

Nothing to sing about, his hands

Grown old, moving so carefully

So gently among the roses


And forget the rest.




JC Sturm, 1927–2009

First published in Dedications (Steele Roberts, 1996)

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