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The Wash-house at Relleu

Helen Jagger


It wasn't that I minded the cold kisses, of the frogs as they slipped
down my nightdress, but the fact they couldn't or wouldn't rescue me.

None had the clear sight to see me for who I was but, whipped
by the branches that coiled inside the wash house, they spun

frowning, glassy-eyed, into the clouded water, its weedy lips
sucking them down camouflaging funnels of green and yellow.

I was tied, full length, across the wash board, its ridges nipping
my flesh through the rose-sprigged brushed cotton of home,

horizontal to the world, unable to move a single limb, gripped
by the thick sinews of a jasmine whose scent was fabulous

but whose intent was not. Flexing and relaxing, I dipped
my body under its green ropes but as I did, their movement

changed to the slithering firmness, the blue skin, of a whip
snake that had earlier that day crossed our path on the way

to Sella. Eyes closed, breathing deeply, trying not to tip
into hysteria, I dragged my finger nails into the wood

carving my life into gouges as deep as I could, chipping
ravines in the board that allowed me to rip myself free.



Helen visited the Almassera in September 2007. She was formerly director of the Indian Kings Art Centre and is now closely involved with promoting the literary scene in Cornwall- This poem was runner up in the first ever Stanza Poetry Competition run by the Poetry Society.


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