Mistresses – Helen Boden


Brides not so much of Christ
but of the 1944 Butler Act:
those clever girls,
who’d been on a promise
to Girton if they agreed
to take up teaching,
performed acts of education
for the next forty years.
More than content to serve
their calling, they observed
daily rituals of assembly, hourly 
ringing the lesson or dinner bell.
Tolled their obsolescence.

This is my body,
would Miss Jenkinson ever think
as she stood to greet 3B with Salvete?
In the eyes of Cathryn Moore,
with a crush so deep
she nearly stopped eating,
Jenkies was undoing her blouse.

Clare Marshall colluded
with Cathryn’s fantasies.
Together they contrived
Jenkies, in her prime, stepping out
with Mr Hall. Did Miss Greene ever feel
the flip under her ribcage
a buzz inside her underskirt
at the sight of Miss Jenkinson’s
new mint-green polo neck,
or the throat of the layman who gave
the communion wine
at St Saviours on Sundays?

Miss Clarke became Mrs Harris over the holidays.
Clare said Miss Armitage had a gentleman friend.
She’d started wearing lipstick.

When Miss Coates their Head of French
said she stayed over at Jenkie’s
to watch the Young Musician final
because the latter had stereo,
Clare and Cathryn missed the clue
where other girls, the ones like Ruth Charles,
who’d go to the boys’ school barn dance,
had they cared, would have guessed.

Helen Boden is a Yorkshire-born, Edinburgh-based writer, educator and editor. Widely published in poetry magazines and anthologies, her first collection, A Landscape to Figure In, will be published by Red Squirrel Press in 2021

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