One cut and the hair worn since childhood
fell upon the floor
her new, bald skull
She belonged to heather
and in tail-streams
in the small, green pulse of life
at the dark centre of reunions, separations,
starved of air.
This was a protest of love, against love
sun, rain, wilderness.
From a finger, she slid a band
placed it underfoot,
until the stone
made the sound of a gold chestnut
Six Ways to Wash Your Hands (Ayliffe 1978)
for the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation
Wet hands, apply soap and rub palm to palm
until a white lather forms like the spit and rage of women,
who, having lain among waves, were dragged back up again
by the hair and stripped of their names to pay for the wrongs
in their bellies, as they stitched lace, pressed linen sheets,
and each week bowed their heads to the post-partum girls
all lined up at the font like a row of roots half-pulled
out of the earth and still holding on to their young.
Rub right palm over left dorsum and left palm over right dorsum
to ensure the scent of infant leaves your skin: the sour fumes
of bottled milk, triangled terry cloth, ice-cold smears of cream.
The scent of sin can cling for years as potent as a bad dream
of trade-deals, needle pricks, poppies bloomed on the skull.
The scent of a child in an unmarked grave may get in beneath
your fingernails and cause all sorts of problems in later life.
Rub palm to palm, fingers interlaced and around the wrists
to erase all trace of fathers. Never mention cuffs.
Never mention scars. Raise your head against the sky
and let the violet clouds overfill your eyes as the names
of these men become again unknown as birds.
When you see a wing, like a realm of thumbed pages
fluttering, take this as a sign: the fathers are no more.
Rub backs of fingers to opposing palm with fingers interlocked
and loosen the joints of wards, nurseries, bolted pantries
stocked with canisters of warm milk and cheese sold
by the yellow quart as the imagined cream of it dripped
from the mouths of hungry, swollen girls. Rub out the halls,
statues, sills. Leave only a rusted nail in a cemetery wall.
Rotational rubbing of right thumb clasped in left palm and vice versa
to disimprint the memory of files. Wash clean the data
until days, months, years signed by clammy hands run
like slip-streams into a great shaking lake. This means
that even should your lips part to release a holy word
all that will spill out is a wet pulp no one understands.
Rotational rubbing backwards and forwards with clasped fingers
of right hand in left palm and vice versa to wear thin the heart-lines.
Be a sister and repeat the law like a hymn into the sink.
Do not commemorate: Do not remunerate. Do not let
the wounded woman or her child speak in a bare tongue.
Wash in this way and rid your hands of Mother, Baby, Home.