We lay on the bed laughing, remembering
how we had held our corner: warriors,
our sandwich boards breastplates, the taunts
mere gnats. You deepened your voice, mimicked
the man who had shouted from the chemist’s door.
As if he knew anything about washing and bluing.
He with a white shirt front and collar, starched
and ironed, surely not by his wife or daughter.
I volleyed back our answer, “Liberty!
Votes for the washerwomen!” But somehow
it seemed a hard way off. I thought of our mother,
her scalded arms, those red skinned knuckles,
how in the end her legs buckled under the load
of other people’s soiled linen. The dank room,
steam running down windows. Those endless
sodden sheets dripping over our heads.
THE NEOPHYTES ARE SET TO WORK
We’re to stencil banners, purple silk,
for Saturday’s parade. Hurry, take care.
Like a mother’s natter, a buzz at your ear.
Don’t leave smudges, keep the letters straight.
I hold my tongue. Who am I to dispute
Mrs. Pankhurst, who says purple is
the colour of dignity. No one mentions
Their Majesties, how perhaps the colour
belongs to them. Or to the flower vendor,
violets in hand, who doesn’t give
a tinker’s dam what purple means. Luv,
a posey for the sweetheart? You suspect
some husbands may buy two. She’ll pocket
their pennies, send them off with a wink.
Winter’s thunder appears to promise
that on this day we’ll startle the citizens,
wake them to the Cause. Today’s light
greys the bold white 10. The upright men
with tight-lipped glances, intent
on governance, theirs not ours,
scurry like wharf rats to hide behind
soot-primed windows, brick and stone.
All morning we hold a civil tongue,
rattle our sandwich boards,
Pass the Bill.
Even a fool would have understood.
But the men are tired of us
and they tire so quickly, call on constables
to clear away the clutter,
women chained to iron posts and railings.
Hacksawed from our tableaux,
we file into unlatched holds, readied vans,
no more wind-blown debris,
old newspapers caught against the guarded gates.
The street is well-ordered now:
clusters of dark coats, unopened umbrellas.
November 18, 1910
Police descend with fists and sticks
to cut down the poofs and bloody bitches
gathered to march. An ordinary day erupts
Twisted arms, flung bodies.
Hands down bosoms, up skirts.
Torn banners and garments,
Women dragged, throats choked.
Later the Press discovers the fault
lies with the East Division, police
who know prostitutes and thieves,
unaware the game has changed. If only
the hunt had been at night, the clean up
unseen. If only the women stayed at home.
TO KNOW THEN
I was braver at six, ran for help.
Saw blood, my mother. It was night.
But here, I’m older, marching with women
who know cardboard boxes make okay signs,
and good enough cribs, women who keep singing,
shouting, free to choose, who don’t obstruct
the sidewalk or the other women who cut through
to make their way into the Convention Center,
these women in suits, with their salon hair,
nothing about them bright or billowy. Or maybe
I’m not seeing them at all, but inventing them.
What if I were to find a place where I could speak
to the other woman, meet her over coffee–.
she, without her foetus slides, I, without my placard?
We keep marching, they keep ignoring us,
disappearing behind guarded doors,
till one does stop and the moment seems
to carry with it kindness. She bends toward me—
I look up—and she rushes her words,
“What do you know? You don’t have children.”
As if mother is tattooed on a woman’s forehead.
Somehow it’s easier to stay put. And I say nothing.
By Louisa Howerow
Photography by Laura Brown
Laura Suzy Brown is a visual artist/image maker working in Brighton and London.