I’m a Nurse with a Vice

off duty without a friend, a hobby to console me,
or the price of a cinema ticket, what can I do?

I enter a little shop down the road, furtively,
and ask the woman for my favourite brand.

I sneak back to my room and lock the door
against everyone. Then out comes the teaspoon

I filched from the dining room. I indulge in an orgy
of onions, gherkins, piccalilli, mustard and spice.

Yes, I finish the whole jar. Then I wash my hands,
clean my teeth, and can face the world. Maybe

it’s because pickles aren’t provided in our meals.
Or maybe my nature requires still more acid.

Mother says the vinegar will dry up my blood
and I’ll be preserved. But, oh, what a glorious end.

(From a letter to an old edition of Woman magazine. Submitted by Angela Readman)

Woman to woman

I know I am not the only woman in the world
with a sort of hurt feeling about fruit shops.

The windows are always so full of delicious
looking fruit. The rosiest of apples, succulent

black grapes, oranges and grapefruit that make
my mouth water. The greenest of watercress,

and sprightly mustard cress just ask for a plate
of thin bread and butter and a cup of strong tea.

Brussel sprouts are so neat and compact.
And every potato is round, neat and eyeless,

– just right to bake with half a dozen of its brothers.
Why is it then, when I get home with my basket

I find little shapeless many eyed potatoes, sprouts
dirty and loose-leaved, cress yellow and limp?

I know every fruit and vegetable can’t be perfect.
But I think some of the window fruit should get

into the shopping basket more often – in fact I know.

(From a letter to Woman magazine in the late 1940s. Submitted by Angela Readman)

Window in the House of Mirrors, Market Street, 1889

At the top
is a clear-eyed maiden
whose lips smile joy.
Below,
and to the left, framed
in long hair
is a horribly sensuous face,
one
eye closed in a leer
above
thick slobbering lips.

Next, is the stupid fat face
of a glutton. Then comes
the hard cold face
of a woman not much
older than the young girl above,
the fifth
face. In the narrow
ell of the house,
behind her is that embittered
old man with cruel eyes,
his hairy moustache
cushioning bulbous jaws.

A description from a file in Denver Public Library of stone carvings on an old Colorado brothel. Via Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West by Anne Seagraves (1994, Wesanne Publications). ‘Cushioned’ changed to ‘cushioning’. Submitted by Angela Readman.