Drawing by Mary Husted
The Foundling Museum in London is somewhere I have never got around to visiting but I hope to do so. I was recently visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and spotted this book of poems for sale. I just had to buy it as the subject is close to my heart.
Tokens for the Foundlings
Edited by Tony Curtis
The royalties from sales of this book are donated to The Foundling Museum, in support of its work.
Established in 1741, The Foundling Hospital was essentially Britain’s first orphanage; admissions to it were catalogued by tokens left by the children’s parents. The book is an anthology of poems about orphans, childhood and family inspired by and supporting the work of The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Contributors include Seamus Heaney, Carl Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Carol Rumens, Michael Longley, George Szirtes and Charles Simic.
Tokens given by mothers to their children on leaving them at the Foundling Hospital. 18th Century
I want to post two poems today from the book, the first is a prose poem by Mary Husted - the drawing at the top of this post is one of many made by Mary Husted before she was forced to give up her baby for adoption (they have since been reunited).
A memory haunts me. It is the wrapping of a shawl. I am leaving the nursing home, following two women; one of them has the baby in the shawl. Snow is thick beneath our feet. It started snowing on Boxing Day and in early February it is still falling.
The women turn left – I follow. We walk up a driveway into an empty waiting room. the doctor comes to meet us, searches my face and looks at the child she delivered ten days ago. We sit on hard chairs and exchange awkward pleasantries. The baby is unwrapped from his shawl. He sleeps. I ask to hold him – here he is in my arms.
In a corner of the room near the door is a fish tank. A stream of bubbles rises slowly and continually to the surface as the colourful fish swim to and fro. to and fro. The three older women watch me with guarded glances. They do not know what I will do. ‘It is time,’ says one. I take the shawl, soft and woollen, and very slowly, carefully, with studied tranquillity, I wrap it around the child, before standing and handing him to one of the women. She takes him and turns, followed by the other woman, to go out of the door. I watch them go. I am one of the bubbles in the fish tank.
The day I let you go there were floods
in Wroxeter and Bishopstown.
Leaves, caramel coloured, were swallowed
by the rivers and as weather travelled north
windows ran grey for hours.
Far from that tiny parlour room,
prams were being pushed around still dry
parks or else their thin wheels were hissing
on wide, wet paths and mothers were thinking
of feeding times, baths.
The moment of goodbye was soon over.
Woollen blankets soft between my fingers;
the silk hem of the parting dress a breath
on my skin, and your weight, like kilos of sweet
apples, swung in my arms.
And then, I was cradling air and dust
and stood near the grate, in an awkward tableau
listening to rain falling into soot.
Each clear drop sent dark motes into the room
and the terrible space in my arms gathered all of them in.