Four

When she was four the mice would whisper
laughter and cries, secrets and lies
back, back, scurry to their master
to tell tales of those thinking things.
Toddling, waddling,
who hadn’t yet learnt to cover their mouths
lest some laughing joyful objection
come echoing out a ramshackle house
to be caught by a bird.

Her mother warned her of wings and whispers
and all the time that painting
followed from gleaming gold
eyes bigger than god,
teeth purer than innocence
hanging on a filthy wall not washed for winter
where a window relief
showed even the light outside was dirty.  

But the ears, oh the ears.
Little Laughing
soon learnt about ears.

Nine

After almost all the joy had taken flight
on the backs of birds and mice alike
the little girl climbed aboard a mother
safe swaying above a blood-cold
concrete street

And for a while the street served
as the path of adventure,
all along paved with the honour of intention

Like the many marches of men
in their sashes and socialism
searching and working for
a workable idea within the forward facing faces.

They were off to see a woman -
her play-friend’s mother -
performing in public
a Hollywood display.

Romance fired the gun
and only when the shot rang out
did open-mouthed Little catch the falling face
and know of a traitor’s blood in winter snow.

Her winter then saw a lifetime of snow.

Fourteen

In the mountainous dark ahead
An icy solace awaits.

Three mountains,
A river, and all the fear
that could ever be felt 
formed the frontier
she faced that night.

That night
the night of the escape
ringing in her ears forever
as she ran, foot after bleeding
foot across the Gobi desert.

Only the stars are with us.

The thud of running.
The wiles of the mountain men
on a smuggled teenage girl
still shivering having fled,
still looking behind for birds.

 

Twenty-one

It is finished now
as she steps down
from the jet
and her eyes go big
at so much glass,
clean glass,
and smart men in uniforms
who offer their hands to help
and smiles of strangers
passing helping offering
making this transition
the easiest it could be
whilst she gathers together
the shreds of dignity
she has shed.

Gathers them
up from the floor of the Gobi, the granite
life that punched her till she grew weak
and went without words
or wily whispers from four to
fourteen to twenty-one
till she stands at a podium
and denounces her oppressors
one power to another
on the world’s stage

and her courage conquers
and her tears triumph
and the red fades in the face of the starlight
that guides her through her night.