Brown hair in a bun,
seventy, walking to the baker
to buy us treats with her pension money,
cream buns and lamingtons.
She cooked rice and sago puddings
on alternate evenings,
beef stew and mutton stew,
 loved tripe.
We wouldn’t touch it.

She loved to talk of India
where she was the personal maid
of the colonel’s lady, married
a sergeant from a Lowland regiment,
Alf – fierce moustache
and tartan trews.
They were childless, Dad, a foster son,

kept his parents’ surname.
Mustard gas wrecked Alf; in 1919
when Dad was seven, they emigrated
to Whangarei – a doctor said
the climate would help Alf’s chest.
Cheated of all his money he worked
  in auction yards, heaving
sideboards and pianos; she
cooked for shearing gangs.

Alf died before I was born.
 Polly lived with us,
 sat on her bed with her feet up
sipping Guinness, smoking
 cigarettes she rolled herself,

reading romances and knitting
for those she loved. We called her Nan,
 everyone called her Nan
 and Polly disappeared.
We moved to an orchard suburb,
fruit trees for neighbours,
her world shrank to her room.

She hated being old,
thin skin flowered blue bruises,
a prelude of the grave
 she dreaded— “I’m getting rotten.”
 She never went to church
but sometimes sang, Abide with me.
When she died, I was away
at university, walked all day
in random winter grief.
I have grandsons now. “Do not call me Grandma.
Nana will do fine,” I say. 


In 2002, Elizabeth Isichei has published poetry in SportThe ListenerPoetry NZTakaheWinterSpin and two anthologies; she has poetry forthcoming in Glottis and two anthologies.