I Peg Out Flags Of Surrender by Char March

These sheets and pillowcases
that I’ve pummelled to whiteness
dazzle and flap in the August air.

I am magician.  Transforming trench-mud
and wound-pus to the pull and snap
of folding sunshine, breaths of golden air.

Over the yew hedge, the ambulants
call and laugh in the whack and clack
of croquet.  One coughs and coughs

then gobs it thick into hedge bottom
– must see my feet through the stems
because there’s a wheezy “Sorry Miss”.

Tonight, this sheet that blows against me
will caress his entire length, this pillowslip
dab his tears, hammock his tousled head

while pompous paintings tell him his duty
and that ornate clock chimes and ticks his life
in tiny parcels till I am rubbing him

with carbolic, pushing my hair from my eyes,
as I soak the pain from him
in the boiling copper.


Notes:  I wanted the writers I worked with to not just think about the soldiers and nurses in Temple Newsam, but also all the other staff and visitors (and the house and grounds themselves) who were involved when it was a WW1 hospital.

I imagined this laundry maid with the huge task of so much laundry to do.  The man she imagines might be the ‘ambulant’ soldier over the hedge, or be her brother, or a sweetheart, and may not be at Temple Newsam at all, but somewhere else in the vast war effort facing dangers she wants to protect him from with the only thing she can give – clean sheets and love.