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Jenny Hockey Poetry

War Poems

The poems below can be read in parallel with the memoir, Family Life, Trauma and Loss in the Twentieth Century. The Legacy of War, that I co-authored with Carol Komaromy.  They describe my responses to the deaths in war of my paternal grandfather and his elder son. Often I use the documents, letters and other paraphernalia I inherited when his younger son, my father, died - and the first two poems describe my attempts to find out more about my family. These are followed by work addressed to my grandfather and grandmother and then to my home life as a child with my father, mother and maternal grandfather during the post-war years. 

All My Dead and Never Once Encountered


Up to a high shelf above my office door,

to a legacy of albums and attaché cases

I take my ignorance of where they lived and died,

of whether they were radiant in their later years

and what sound their voices had. I ask what they did

of a Sunday and what their neighbours thought of it,

how they felt when their sons and husbands were

conscripted. After the War Office Telegram,

what happened to their grief, what became of their love?

Climbing down I scrub dust from my finger tips,

dream vengeance for their bloody loss.

Your Diaries Entered


Thieves slashed open the soft bindings of your life,

found nothing there they thought of worth -

stopped at the padlocked year you found a wife,

the long moment of my birth.


After you died I trawled those ruptured years,

pages of work and weather writ small.

You were done.  But I was hunting lusts and fears

that shaped your days when love was all.


Should I prise your young life apart,

have a locksmith let me see

into the room where you caused  my start?

What have you done with the key? 



Younger than I am now by thirty years,

among your pals, your cap pushed back.

Not as I thought, away on the Western Front,

just camped in a Devon field, toying with guns.


Three tents pitched behind six uniformed lads,

another four in watch chains and waistcoats,

some old chap with a pickaxe, one small boy —

all stuck on my album’s opening page


under another photo of you, the one

where you’ve set your buttons to rights, laid

a five-pocket bandolier cross-wise on your chest.

Over your cheekbones, flawless skin.


Is it that history’s tipped me off, shown me

your Villers-Bretonneux grave? Or had sadness

already weighed on your glorious moustache,

caused it to weep on stopped-up lips?


Could dread so infect your eyes?

I would ease the serge from your back,

lay leather and Enfield aside — ask in a voice

I once had if you’ll play a game for a while.

The Draper’s Wife

We were married eight years

when he gave me this ring — a primrose

with petals of pearl, diamond stamens

sparkling it up —


then he checked our accounts,

put baccy, notepad and knife

in his pack, stood it erect

by the door, a soldier on watch

with only his number

inked into hemp.


I know we made love

as best we could, slept

on and off.


Leftovers grandma put out

made a breakfast of sorts for us

on guard for the cabman’s early knock.

Then up into the trap,

him, me and the pack.


Down at the Aldershot train,

more men than before,

kitted in khaki. Older ones now,

like him. The young fellows

all gone ahead.


He kissed me once

and then twice for the boys


while the cabman sat waiting,

his loaf and his two hard-boiled eggs.

Cycle Route South


Easter gone and snow to come

they say. The trees at the back

all mustard green, the sky

a footloose blue. Slip out

while you can. Now I’m heady

with air, hot on the pedals


up Clough Lane and a stream

hurtling to my side like a puppy

tied up too long. Slip the leash

to find a route back


to ten years old and Easter

on Dartmoor, at Yellowmead

where a chute delivers a stream

to the farm — water they said

I could drink all day, freed

from winter’s classroom,

released among cowslips

yellowing high-banked lanes.


Find a route to my daddy,


sent from these moors, for the best.

Off to school for months at a time

after his own daddy was lost

to the guns.  I’m telling you this —

that my daddy held faith,


honeymooned here

where uncles fed lambs

when snow was in the wind

and trees were mustard green.

Meredith Charles Watling


was an acknowledged East Anglian

painter, I read in the 1955 obituary

that fluttered from the unlocked leaves

of my mother’s diary. He filled our house

with the scent of linseed and St Bruno

pinched from a flat Bakelite pouch

with a screw-off inset lid; pared his nails

with a knife, stropped a cut-throat razor.


When I grew longer than the alcove

in my parents’ room, they moved me

downstairs by Grandad’s easel and paint

— until Addenbrookes took him one night

and I came into possession of his bed,

his sunlit room and something up there,

laid out above his wardrobe,

under the pall of a dustsheet’s folds.

‘We’re just going for a stroll’

Always it is three o’clock. My parents have woken

from their rests, leaving my granddad in peace

with his easel and paints. Me in my sandpit


from where I can almost see my father’s arm

sliding round my mother’s coat, hand on the belt

she draws round her waist, not leaning into him.


They are walking the towpath where he

first found her lips, the soft skin of her cheek.

Found out for the first time.


Now they are never alone, never yelling

or running wildly into each other’s arms

down a grand parquet-tiled hall,


never lying in bed with a bottle balanced

between them, warming the wine

from one mouth to another.

Home Work


Wearing the apron she has made

from an old dress, my mother stands

at the kitchen end of our back room.


I’m full length on the studio couch,

sun, as I always recall, warm

through the metal-framed windows.


Duty before pleasure, she says,

pulling bun tins from the kitchen cabinet.

I’m seeing my satchel, sprawled


in my bedroom, sagging with books.

My mother is making jam tarts

and after that, sausage rolls.


They are all she ever makes,

after she’s dragged the cylinder vac

across the rugs, washed up breakfast


in sequence, boiled water eked out.

My mother and I both know

about the homework in my satchel.



A mangle.  Clamped by her to the Belfast sink

after flannelling her body down,

with the mean curtains pulled 

against neighbours,


none of whose business it is

that she forswears the bathroom

for the deep sink. Where soaked clothing heaps

and heaps beneath her hands, flattening the pads of her thumbs

as weeks become years,


as knives grow slim as a wafer on a Sunday tongue,

as towels strung out above the stove

fray with age, as soap slivers down.

Where fen winds keen over bean fields,

she washes down her days, grows old young,


except on Tuesday, when she opens the door     

to laundered sheets, ironed into whitened glass,

swaddled in brown paper, the profligate promise

of sleep, sweetened with the labour

of another pair of hands.


The Whole Meringue


would be too much for you,

they say, settling a domed half upon my plate,

tea-spooning cream in moderation

while sun drains into that post-war café

where Dad, in what he calls his business suit,

joins us whenever my mother risks

the heart thump of uptown shopping.


Across my ankle-sock afternoons

that gleaming line-up of whiteness tips

oblivious into unlit cul-de-sacs of my skull;

yet the sweetness of their slick, unbitten other halves

still hovers in the just-a-minute fastness

of my life’s long Never-Never Land  


where perfect in their symmetry,

their mutual creamy commitment, their table-top

supremacy, whole meringues unite,

snubbing cupcakes, battenburg,

malt loaf and madeira


and now as I pare the flesh

of another weekend mango

of which I have offered you half,

I sneak pieces from your bowl into mine

as your tread sounds upon the stairs.


She comes to my mind


when my knife slices the herring’s belly,

my nails catch its bristle of bones,

when my hands are gloved

in the creature’s dark blood strands,

cuffed in its stamp-hinge scales.


Oily with goodness, I splice

and slice, tweaking off dinosaur crests,

patting paper towels into flaking grey flesh.


No, I can’t face the head

but I do butter the bread

before I cut it.

Diary Notes


Feel we owe him another visit before the holiday. 


Flattened throughout July. At times depressed.  Hard to form

a smile. Overworked.  Desperate to go away.  What about

justice?  Is there no end to demands too costly to meet?  Is

there no-one to say when a break is due?  Must take the holiday. 


Late July and someone rings. Worried.  About him. 

His jacket is hanging off.  He is confused.  His neighbour

confirms it.  The doctor suspects malignancy.  He has broken

his appointment on June 3rd.  Along with two more.


Cigarettes and gin and tonic from the bar.  Quickly.  Why am I

sailing so far away from someone who is likely to leave me

altogether? Watch the shoreline recede, the deepening of waters.

This holiday is madness.  We do not carry a mobile phone.


Approach the Burgundy village and contact.  Is he already

dead?  The wrong phone number was left.  But he is alive

and angry.  Somebody passed on information.  Someone said he was

ill. And phoned his doctor behind his back.  Leave for Rully.


Fifteen weeks later and he is dressed in something blue

and frilly.  Which connects directly to the coffin sides.  A coverlet

posing as a garment.  His hands are visible again. Now utterly

familiar.  The red marks on their backs, left behind by the tubes.


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