The Spinsters and the Knitters in the Sun

Patricia Beer

The Grand Tour paused at Ravenna. Back in England
Rain closed in from the sea and attacked the windows
But the two wealthy young women
Saw mosaic walls whenever they shut their eyes,
Thought of those craftsmen who could never be pitied
Working for God in the sun.

The house they lived in was already childlike
With a pleasant sense of games still to be played
Past youthfulness and prime.
The curved gallery under the roof was bare
And ready for some escapade, some ploy
Fetched out of foreign lands.

A few miles away, from three-quarters of the windows,
Lay the beach scalloped in bays, and the sand shaken
From a picnic basket when at first
They collected shells in the stretches of daylight.
At home in spotlit darkness they sorted and planned
New life for these vessels.

Years later the work was finished. The neighbourhood
Was drawn in, to view the shells stuck to the wall
Within sight of their proper habitat.
It was a beautiful grotto. Pregnant women
Dragged themselves up the stairs to say ‘How lovely’
To the unmarried sisters.

Sunshine turned paler every month, and a pale wave
Rippled through the gallery. They ran their mittened
Fingers over the shells and remembered
Not husbands or children dead, that calm evening,
But the blisters, the cramps and the smell of glue
And hot days well spent.