This is my aunt, my great aunt Nellie Brown
(who lived, for what it was worth, to 101)
before her given name became a joke
standing at fifteen in the sea at Rhyl
some 20 feet from her younger sister's
Her mother beside her looks unsure
but Nellie stands at ease - with life, with the breeze,
with the unfamiliar feel of her calves exposed to the sun
and the tickling surf: she looks us in the eye,
flexes her toes in the sand and sees who knows what
beyond the camera before her.
My aunt, before the twentieth century was born
when Rhyl was a day's jaunt in the charabanc
before the omnibus or motor car; before she saw
her grandmother burn in her nightdress by the hearth;
before they built the red brick market hall
at which the whole town kissed its youth goodbye.
My aunt, before she joined the VAD
before Edouard's last postcard from the front
before her brother came back maimed and silent;
before her sister's tumour let her claim
her niece and nephew and - in vain - their father;
before she nursed her parents to their slow deaths.
Before she took in the evacuees who would not eat,
before her brother turned to drink
and fathered a child she would not speak of,
before she kept house forty years for him
before she took in two stray cats for company
before the waiting rooms, the waiting lists...
before the home help helped herself
before the Queen misspelled her name
before the day and nightly moaning
from the next bed in the nursing home...
Before all this, before the breaking waves
my aunt stands, clutching her sepia petticoats knee high
seeing a life that ripples and sparkles before her
and she smiles.