Jeni Williams teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity University College, Carmarthen. Here she indulges us with her poem, ‘The little cakes and the rose in winter ‘.
It was a time of sweetness for little Rose
And she was very sweet
She was small and very fond of being quiet.
Long ago the aunt in black had come,
and taken little Rose in her grasp.
It was spring time and she fed her
little cakes with pink icing and sugar roses.
Ah Rose she said, fixing her beady eye on the small girl,
How pretty you are.
And she placed her in a cot
with her two watchful daughters
Tall as sentinels in the small hot room.
Now you live with me she said.
the traffic rattled outside Rose’s window.
She gazed out at the mist curled over the road
and wondered where the sea had gone.
You must eat said the aunt in black
and gave her little cakes, little cakes.
Now it was summer and the sun shone in the dirty city
It was hot and smelled of frying food. Her cousins wore black
They sang to her and the room was cosy as a birds nest.
The little Rose played with the cakes and with her tall cousins.
She learnt a new language from the crow black aunt
Who was sharp and whose name was like needles.
Dirty daddy she said –
when her father was allowed to see her –
travelling miles on his quest,
bringing her strawberries.
The father wept.
But the little Rose laughed and kissed him
and put the strawberries one by one in her small rose mouth.
When the aunt saw red marks on the little face her sharp eyes snapped.
Her thin tongue sharpened round the pleasure of malice, blame and accusation like a curse.
But when the red washed off the father did not open his lips, did not make a sound.
He put his hard eyes on the aunt and looked her up and down.
Then it was autumn. The light thickened and the rubbish blowing in the street turned gold.
The little Rose loved her small doll With yellow hair and a small nose her face was blue and red and green
The felt tip colours did not wash off and little Rose thought she was beautiful.
At night she sang sweetly,
rocking her dolly in a sparkling shawl,
with the street lights seeping into the overheated room
through thin white curtains.
Now it was winter.
There was ice in the big city outside.
The little Rose slept in her small cot Listened to her cousins quarrelling in the night
about boys, about cake, about boys.
When she looked out of the window there were cats slinking hungry in the shadows.
She held her dolly tight, humming into her hair
All around the whine of sirens.
Blue lights on and off and on.
When she stamped her feet in the day outside,
breathing smoke in the cold air,
she hardly remembered the sea shore or
gulls screaming in fresh salt air.
The park full of flowers.
The father came and went and came again
The little Rose’s eyes were shiny with happiness.
He brought her pomegranates, honey, rosewater;
to remind her of sunshine
It was a big, dirty city
Time was passing.
Rose still lived with the aunt in black.
Still lived with the quarrelling sisters.
One day a bird sang on the window ledge
There were yellow flowers in the shops
and little Rose knew it was spring.
She jumped with brightness.
She wanted to know about things.
About summer in other places
about the sea,
about her father,
about the flowers in the park.
About the place where people sang when they spoke.
The black aunt frowned,
gave her little cakes, little cakes, little cakes.
Jeni Williams has published widely in magazines including Agenda, New Writing, NWR, Orbis, Planet Poetry Wales and The London Magazine; her first collection was Being the Famous Ones, (Parthian, 2009). She was contributing editor of Fragments from the Dark: Women Writing Home and Self in Wales, a collection of writing by women asylum seekers and refugees alongside well known women writers from Wales.