IN THE GARDEN OF THE SENIOR RESIDENCE

 

Jean tells how she’d go to pubs and meet

American soldiers—she’d sing the latest songs—

White Cliffs of Dover, Berkeley Square

teenager in London in the war years, time

of privation, of jokes in the bomb shelter.

She tells us in the fading light,

surrounded by wings of the building.

.

Every night, after feeding all her younger

brothers and sisters (mother dead, her father

an alcoholic), out she’d go—it was a wonderful time—

Sing us another one, Jeannie!”—

as well as a terrible time—“The boy you danced with

could be dead the next week,” she says.

.

We hear a siren beyond the garden wall—

a resident being rushed to the hospital.

An American married Jean, brought her

to Massachusetts; when he beat her, she had

to leave him. A nanny in Boston, raising

other women’s children—when the husband died,

her sons began to visit her.

.

Tears in her eyes as we speak—

the new director of the residents’ choir

won’t let Jean sing solos, so she’s quit the choir.

“My heart isn’t in it anymore. They all like

my songs—I know the words of all the old songs—

but she doesn’t want me to sing them.”

.

Sing for us, I ask, sing White Cliffs of Dover.

“Here?” she asks. “Here and now?” Please, I say,

and she sings—her light, clear soprano reminding us

of bright nights when life was waiting

for everyone young to bite huge chunks

and down them with beer

before the sirens wailed.

 

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