Paisley Girl


Sarah McStravick,
born into peacetime,
wears fancy velvet dresses
– chosen with a mother’s care,
shipped all the way from Canada –
growing up in princess costumes, fairy gowns,
amid the rag-and-bone horse-and-cart-clatter
of Paisley between the wars.
*
All the boys say Sissy Muirhead
looks like an Irish Colleen,
falling in love with her long black hair
and laughing eyes,
dancing blue, chasing breathless
down the cobbles of Abbercorn Street.
*
Motorcycle engines rage and bellow in the Scottish dark,
come calling for Sissy Muirhead.
Adrenaline rush and sweltering throttle,
ready to streak her away
in a cloud of exhaust fumes,
on the wild, crazy helter-skelter of reckless youth.
*
Sissy Muirhead,
the toast of the Paisley Lads,
quits the scene and breaks their hearts,
moving on
to red coats and wedding bells,
to the future,
falling into place.
*
Sarah Bruce is a mother now,
heading home from the hospital
in the cold, brittle edge of the newborn year,
with a cargo
wrapped in blankets.
A daughter,
with all her mother’s fierce tenacity,
grows up strong and streetwise
on the banks of the Mersey.
*
Sarah Bruce enjoys a knees-up,
knocks back Scotch and ginger wine,
and argues with Banana Bill
–  contented married bickering –
all the way home through the Coventry night.
It’s an argument as familiar,
as well-worn and comfortable as old cardigans.
When she goes away,
even the dog leaves home.
*
Sarah Bruce makes good time on her walking frame.
Guiding you along hospital corridors,
with the linoleum muting her footsteps to a hushed little shuffle,
she tells you,
she still knows how to fight,
and you’d better believe her.
*
Fists balled hard against the pain,
and angry at her busted hip,
her aching bones,
at others of time’s cruel jokes,
Sarah Bruce squares up to God,
ready to spit in His eye for the trouble He’s caused her.
She tells Him,
she’s not coming,
not yet,
but when she does,
He’ll have her to answer to.
Sarah Bruce spites Death each day
to keep the Almighty in suspense.
*
Sitting under blankets
in the weak, thin light of a winter sun,
she tells you,
she’s ninety-four;
she’s lived longer than you have,
further than you have,
wider than you have,
and deeper than you have.
She tells you,
she’s lived harder than you have an’ all,
so bollocks tae ye.
Then she laughs,
those diamond-blue eyes still sharp and dancing,
undimmed by almost a century and all it meant,
and she pats your hand,
and she tells you to have a sweetie,
and you realise you know nothing.
*
Sarah Bruce wears pink floral print
and a pale green shawl,
and sits in a bright window
in an oversized armchair
that seems to shrink her down to miniature,
and she sleeps.
She’s lived through a World War
and countless personal ones:
she deserves to rest a while.
She’ll be glad to see you when she wakes up.
She’ll smile, and she’ll settle her false teeth,
and she’ll welcome you,
making a warm and comfortable space for you
in her world.
She remembers, if you ask her,
the words to all of those old Scottish songs
(including the dirty ones,
especially the dirty ones).
She remembers the black and white strip
that St. Mirren still play in,
and the parrot that backed a horse and cart into a canal.
She remembers all of these
and a million other details
of a life
rich and grained and textured with unreserved living.
And she’ll tell you,
if you listen,
and she’ll hold your hand,
and she’ll thank you for the pink roses you brought her.
From your wee pal.
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