Handmaids of the Lord – Sheila Jacob

Handmaids of the Lord

Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word

At twelve noon Sister Therese
rang the Angelus bell,
brought us to a halt.
We bowed our heads, prayed
silently and when we moved
again our footfall synchronised
as though we’d followed
one internal rhythm.

We didn’t speak afterwards,
not straightaway; walked
through the wooden-floored
assembly hall, crates of empty
milk-bottles stacked by the door,
librettos balanced on the music
stand, a crucifix nailed
to a wall above the stage.

Another wall remembered those
who’d gone before us,
matriculated with Honours
since the nineteen-twenties.
Did some look down, intercede
as we struggled with our own fiat,
stuffed Silk Cut and Rimmel
in biro- graffitied satchels?

We inscribed our love for Paul,
Mick, The Yardbirds; rolled up
waistbands to shorten our skirts,
display 15-denier tights.
Our Lady smiled a plaster-cast
smile from a plinth near the piano,
her gilt-edged mantle the same
sky-blue as our summer dresses.

 

Sheila Jacob was born and raised in Birmingham and now  lives on the North Wales border with her husband. Since returning to poetry in 2013 she’s had work published in The Dawntreader, Sarasvati, Clear Poetry, The Cannon’s Mouth, I Am Not A Silent Poet amongst others.

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9 thoughts on “Handmaids of the Lord – Sheila Jacob

  1. Extraordinarily evocative poem, this woman clearly went to exactly the same school as me! Except I lived in Norwich and went to Notre Dame School. This poem reads as if Sheila is inside my head – very unsettling! Very well observed though!

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  2. I’ve just discovered your comment,Liz,thank you so much for your appreciate words.I’m really glad you can empathise with the poem.x

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  3. I went to Our Ladys in the late 70/80s, Sheila, my mother also attended the school and my daughter is currently a pupil. Although Mum and I had similar experiences to yours in the poem, I wonder how many Taryn will recognise. The last teaching nun retired a few years ago and, although there is still a strong Catholic ethos this must have made a difference to the school environment. I almost thought of nuns as a different breed (God forgive me!) as they could be very intimidating. Mind you, my mother and her friends didn’t smoke and neither does Taryn and her mates – maybe we poets are more rebellious! 😄

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    1. Hi again,Marion,did you recognise the school from the poem?! I went to Our Lady’s from 1961-1968, I was by no means the most rebellious of pupils and probably smoked less than most; but my Dad, a devout Catholic. died in ’65,he’d been a strong influence on me and I was drifting. I remember the nuns with particular vividness and like you, thought they were probably born in their habits! I had very mixed feelings about the environment and ethos, the 60’s was a decade of swift and quite alarming change, though we didn’t realise it at the time. I imagine it’s quite different for your daughter. I hope she’s happy there.

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      1. I don’t believe it would have been the same Our Ladys, Sheila! Unless you grew up in Northern Ireland?L The one I’m talking about is in Newry. I must admit, I didn’t start smoking until my A levels which was very stupid of me. Happily I’ve stopped about 15 years now. I really enjoyed my seven years at the school (all the nuns weren’t wicked and my art teacher, Sister Mary Kelly, inspired me so much) I think my daughter also likes the school. She has her final AS in French this Friday and at the minute I can hear her upstairs happily chatting to one of her classmates.

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      2. Ooh I’m a dunce, didn’t check your present location, old age brain fog again. Mine was in Birmingham U.K..across the water. I think schools are more relaxed places in many ways and there’s warm camaraderie. I had quite a few friends but the school drew in girls from all over the city as it was the only Catholic grammar school so I lost touch once I left. Such a pleasure chatting with you. I hope your daughter’s A levels are going well and she gets the grades she needs.

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  4. Indeed, Sheila. They weren’t very inventive when it came to naming Convent schools – even Liz Barnard’s school was Notre Dame. Lots of Our Ladys around 🙂

    Lovely to talk to you too. And thanks on behalf of Taryn.

    marion

    (And sorry to the eds, for going off topic!)

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