Crab Apple Jelly

Every year you said it wasn’t worth the trouble –
you’d better things to do with your time –
and it made you furious when the jars
were sold at the church fête
for less than the cost of the sugar.

And every year you drove into the lanes
around Calverton to search
for the wild trees whose apples
looked as red and as sweet as cherries,
and tasted sharper than gooseberries.

You cooked them in the wide copper pan
grandma brought with her from Wigan,
smashing them against the sides
with a long wooden spoon to split
the skins, straining the pulp

through an old muslin nappy.
It hung for days, tied with a string
to the kitchen steps, dripping
into a bowl on the floor –
brown-stained, horrible,

a head in a bag, a pouch
of sourness, of all that went wrong
in that house of women. The last drops
you wrung out with your hands;
then, closing doors and windows

to shut out the clamouring wasps,
you boiled up the juice with sugar,
dribbling the syrup onto a cold plate
until it set to a glaze,
filling the heated jars.

When they were cool
you held one up to the light
to see if the jelly had cleared.
Oh Mummy, it was as clear and shining
as stained glass and the colour of fire.

Dawlish, 1949

In the kitchen, Aunt Inge,
who in the war was accused
of hanging nappies on the line
to send messages to the Germans
and who, the first Christmas

in Devon, cut and bundled
and sent up to London
enough mistletoe and holly
to almost pay for this house
with its crumbling stone terrace

overlooking the sea – some people
always land on their feet! –
stands with two bantams
squawking and fluttering
in her podgy red hands.

I am crying. It’s the heat
and excitement, mother says,
dabbing cotton wool soaked
in cold pink calamine lotion
onto my burning back.

On the terrace,
the little cousin is calling:
Schmetterling! Schmetterling!
‘It’s not! It’s not!’ I scream.
‘It’s a butterfly!’

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