Carole Coates

Water Work

This was the best that Henrietta Scott
could manage. She hauled water from
the pump in Drury Lane up five flights
to her room in the waterless house. She clanked buckets
to scrub Covent Garden floors straw, shit, mud,
gobbets of phlegm, cabbage leaves, egg, the bloodstains of beetroot
all excised, scoured and sent in filthy water
through gullies, drains and gutters
and gothic passages of sewers down
to the ponderous important river. She swilled out privies;
carted water uphill, upstairs; scrubbed attics;
washed out cellars when the sewers flooded.

She was my great great grandmother.
Her daughters became washerwomen.
These women who carried water from pumps and wells
had raw chapped fists, back ache, throbbing chilblains,
prolapses, arthritic knees, varicose veins, T.B.
Their bodies are intimately connected with mine.

...........................................Let water remember.
Let it leap from the tap crying your mother did this
and your grandmothers . Water, remember them all.
Henrietta Scott. Water, remember her
and Sara, her daughter, and her sister Rose.
Remember them all hauling water when water was rigid,
holding tight in winter, when gritty drippings
hardened to ice and windows thickened and bulged with it.

Let water remember them.


published in Speaking English, ed. Andy Croft, Five Leaves Publications, 2007
and in Looking Good, Shoestring Press, 2009

© 2007 Carole Coates

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Last updated 15 March 2012