for Florence Jaunin
You were three and I seventeen
your cousin’s girlfriend then.
Four years later, our flower girl--
short white dress, white gloves,
ribboned posy with lilies of the valley.
Shy smile beneath your bangs.
Your hair was long now, I was told,
and frothy, like spun taffy. You had
shapely hands with tapered fingers.
Small feet, just like your mother
who named you Florence when really,
it was a boy she wanted.
Your friends called you Firenze—
code name that suited you
as in Florence the sublime
on the banks of the Arno
worlds away from the welfare case
your mother saw you as.
I can see you, truculent or pleading,
and her, stony-faced,
the two of you always out of step.
In and out of rehab
no kind of finished schooling
you shut yourself up in your flat
letting in only your dad who should
get a medal, at least for doggedness.
Some years back your mother died,
complaining you’d been the death of her.
A phone call in mid-afternoon
she hanged herself
I echo the words
as if they had to break through
the bone of my skull
and travel cell by cell
to where they added up
then I said again
she hanged herself.
You’d alarmed the neighbors,
poised on the utmost step
of the ladder on your balcony.
When the ambulance came
you clawed at the orderly
they locked you up in solitary
you got the job done.