they all lived in a hop-hut for months to escape the bombings in Rotherhithe¬†¬† the kids picking¬†¬† my nan and her sisters stripping the hops from the stalks into a barrel¬†¬† maybe one her husband had made although perhaps the metal staves would have been too precious¬†¬† ¬†the air smelt of beer and cheer¬†¬† everything green¬†¬† the hops compressible as sponges Orwell noted during his wanderings eight harvests before this woman and her grubby gang arrived¬†¬† homeless¬† though they didn‚Äôt yet know they‚Äôd lost the first house of three in London‚Äôs blitzed wastelands
the hop-huts their sanctuary¬†¬† they slept on straw-stuffed sacks scratching hop-lice bites so like the city‚Äôs bedbug nips¬†¬† your mother wasn‚Äôt born yet¬† ¬†says my aunt¬†¬† but that‚Äôs not right¬†¬† she had already slipped into that blinkered world in 1937¬†¬† was she so tame and quiet her siblings forgot her?¬†¬† Tommy would be finding trees to climb¬†¬† would want to be the one to pull the vines down¬†¬† London Bridge is falling down¬†¬† falling down¬†¬† Milly was the obedient hardworking one¬†¬† but Emy always wanted small soft things to love¬†¬† did she burrow through the straw to find her Thumbelina sister calling Mary‚Ä¶ Mary Margaret‚Ä¶?¬†¬† these sandy-haired urchins¬†¬† did they know they were picking the hops to make the beer to fill my grandfather‚Äôs little empire?
¬© Sue Burge
Picture 10261196, photograph by Francis Frith, 1955, image copyright Mary Evans / Francis Frith Collection
Sue Burge is a freelance creative writing tutor, mentor and editor based in North Norfolk, UK.¬† Sue‚Äôs poems have been published in a wide range of journals and have also featured in themed anthologies on science fiction, modern Gothic, illness, Britishness, endangered birds, WW1 and the ongoing pandemic.¬† Her four poetry collections are: In the Kingdom of Shadows and Confetti Dancers (Live Canon), Lumi√®re and The Saltwater Diaries¬† (Hedgehog Poetry Press).¬† She is currently working on her next full collection which explores the world of the alter ego she left behind in Paris three decades ago.¬† Her collection of eco-poetry, watch it slowly fade, is forthcoming with Hedgehog Poetry Press.¬†www.sueburge.uk¬†