‘Industrial orphan’

The lioness stretched out on the back of the sofa,
watching over her;
both of them roaring silently inside.

Not a real lioness, of course;
a gift, bought to keep her company,
and to make up for the toys she never received.

She hadn’t been able to roar as a child;
not able to raise her voice.


An “industrial orphan”.

The left-handedness beaten out of her, and
her name changed
by the Sisters of Charity.

“Too Protestant, Muriel,” they said.
“You’ll be Winnie from now on.”

An “industrial orphan”.

Although she had a mother,
lost to her before she could feel maternal love;
a mother whose name we are still unsure about.

Her “period of detention”
– that’s what it was called –
began at the age of seven.

Later, she would work in a laundry,
a Magdalene laundry,
washing clothes from morning ‘til night, until,
in her twenties,
she took the boat to England,
back to where she was taken to be born,

a generous legacy in her hand from the family she never knew.

“I should have gone with those who came for me then,” she said.
“But I was afraid.”

She worked then in the Manchester mills.

The noise, she remembered;
the deafening noise of the machines,
and the nights out on the town with the girls.

She married and had children.

Giving birth to her daughter,
she went along the near-death tunnel, but she returned,
and stayed to take care of her family.

To laugh, and to cry,
and to dance.

She loved to dance.

Trying to heal,
trying to forget.

Never bitter, but never recovered from
what was done to her in the name of religion;
what was done to her in the name of the Church.

“I think I had a half-sister, but I really don’t know,” she would say.
“I think my mother died young, but I really don’t know.
“She married an Air Force officer, I think, but I really don’t know.”

Ireland was a place to go on holiday, but not to live.
She had had enough of the place.

“I’m English,” she always said.

One day, when she was elderly,
bearing the mental scars
of a life begun so painfully,
more money was given to her.


But it was money that could never absolve;
never replace what was lost.

She never spent a penny of it,
but her daughter did,
so as to write;
so as to have an independent voice.

And her daughter roars for her still,
and will roar and rail against injustice
day in and day out
until she can roar and rail no more.

© Annette Gartland, 2018.