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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