I Knew the Bride

Hugo Williams

for my sister Polly 1950-2004

You had to go to bed ahead of us
even then, while your two older brothers
grabbed another hour downstairs.
The seven-year gap
was like a generation between us.
You played the princess,
swanning about the house
in your tablecloth wedding dress,
till we told you your knickers were dirty
and you ran upstairs to change.
Your hair was tied up
in plaits on top of your head,
showing the parting down the back
as you marched out of the room.

It wouldn’t be long
till we were asking you to dance,
practising our jiving
for the Feather’s Club Ball at the Lyceum.
Nobody knew so well
how to judge the turns
with perfectly tensed arms,
your ponytail flying back and forth
to ‘Party Doll’ by Buddy Knox.
For my speech on your wedding day
all I had to do
was read out the words
to Nick Lowe’s ‘I Knew the Bride
When She Used to Rock ’n’ Roll.’

You put yourself together
for occasional family lunches
at the Brompton Brasserie,
appearing coiffed and chic
and on time, so that I imagined you
going about all day looking like that
and even assumed you were getting better.
You fought a five-year war
with that foul thing
which deals in hope and fear,
two against one,
like the two brothers who tormented you.
It wouldn’t be long
till you had to go to bed.

You turned your back on us
to protect us from your face.
You lay on the rack of yourself,
murdered by your skeleton.
Somewhere towards the end
you climbed its rickety ladder
to your full height
and stood before us one last time.
You had ordered a white stetson
from a mail-order catalogue.
Perched on your coffin, it sailed
ahead of you into the flames.
I saw the parting down the back of your head
as you marched out of the room.