Blitz E15

NUMBER 42, 1940

Take the hair in one hand

And, neat as ninepence,

Twist and secure.

Slide the pin into the pleat

Silky and smooth.

Easy does it.

The mirror slithers

To the bedroom floor,

Grinning like a clown.

She frowns at the sudden empty wall.

Snick-snack go the blades of glass

Slicing her dress

Her petticoat, her hand,

Neat as a surgeon. 


The house settles its fractured frame,

Irritable as a muzzled dog. 

Down the shattered stairs, hobbled

By heels, to the smoking hall.

A bed on the dining table,

Hospital corners intact

Beneath its blanket of dust.


The boy raises a plaster face

To the sky above his head.

‘What larks, sis! Where’s Ma?’

‘At the factory. Thank God.

We’d better shift.’ Shift

And twist out into 

The rubbled street.


Sitting on the stumps

Of long-gone railings,

She feels the garden wall

Wet through shredded poplin,

Until a passing warden

Stops.  And gasps.


‘Christ! Fred, this one’s bad.’

Tender as a lover, he lifts her,

Weightless, body weeping,

Face down on a stretcher.

While, in the distance,

The boy calls her name.

‘Easy does it.’

NUMBER 44, 1940

Elsie and Rose, giggling with shock,

Entombed beneath fat Victorian legs,

Buttressed with bricks and bric-a-brac,

Wriggle on the lumpy mattress.

Mother, tight-chested with fear,

Fights like a drowning swimmer

Through the debris of the first floor

Now clogging the hall. 

‘Girls? Girls?’ she pleads, coughing

In the swirling darkness, the door

To all she holds dear

Piled high with masonry.

Outside, the wail of sirens.

Within, the creak and groan

Of timbers, affronted

By the bomb.

‘Out in a jiffy, stay calm.’

Mother, straining with the wardens

In the flickering torchlight,

For a whisper of life.

Rose, lying like an effigy,

Hands palm to palm upon her chest,

Cries, ‘Ma, one castor’s broken!’

Such bathos in the dust.

The passage cleared,

A suffocating reunion;

Tears channelling cheeks

Floured like marbled saints.

Two streets away

Aunt Bessy sweeps her home

Into the gutter,

Muttering curses at the blood-red sky.

NUMBER 13, 1940

Lust girdles the hot young flesh

Mouth on mouth, bone to bone.

The now, only the present,

Only the wet slip, slide and slice

Back against brick,

Now, now.

Fingers splay, clench, stroke

And scratch, rake the glistening skin

Like ploughs biting the dark earth.

‘Oh, baby,’ he groans,

Hair cropped to fragile skull,

Naked in the bitter sunless air.

Screams of man and bomb collide,

A single note of death.

Secret, sly, wreathed in darkness,

She smiles. 

‘Oh honey!’ he moans.

Now, now.

‘Helen,’ she says.

But gently.

NUMBER 17, 1940 

In the garden, bruised apples

Gape with wasp-burrows, sweet with rot.

The crumbled walls bleed into earth

Soured by resentful London light.

Thin blades of bone beneath

The homemade dress, she fingers

A discarded doll, sightless eyes

Bright with unshed tears.

Her absent daughters scream,

Soft limbs entwined round hips

That ache with emptiness.

The bedroom holds a drift

Of sweat and love,

A pile of childish letters

Bubbling with delight 

At hedges, livestock, horizons

Wild with wonder.

‘Don’t you worry, Mrs P,

They’ll be right as rain, you’ll see.’

The angry sky convulses, sheds

Its deadly silver drops.

In Devon, rain falls soft as silk

Upon her wide-eyed girls.

NUMBER 19, 2006

The wounds still weep.

Defenceless under an astonishing May sun

The socket of the house stares up at the shimmering sky,

A brave flag of wallpaper ravaged

By the excavator’s teeth.

Layer by layer, years fall away,

Curls of life flaking like skin

On to the rubbled landscape

Forty feet below.

And in the screams of metal,

Grinding like a rapist

Through the pliant walls

The whispers of the past

Escape into the dusty air


Hilary Spiers

Hilary Spiers is a novelist, award-winning short story writer and playwright., writing about women - particularly older women - in all their wit and exuberance.  Her novels Hester & Harriet and Hester & Harriet: Love, Lies and Linguine are published by Allen and Unwin and she has just completed her first children’s novel. Mrs Siddons in Lockdown, about the legendary tragedienne Sarah Siddons, is available on the Stamford Arts Centre YouTube channel.