Elizabethan girls

by Sharon Ashton

Elizabethan girls

I watch them diminish in rooms

made sweet with straw-matting,

heads bent to winter candlelight.

Elizabeth, Nan and

Lettice sewing hare-bells, pansies,

honesty and roses

for unknown husbands who don’t give

a damn for girls’ stitches.

Beneath green samplers their child-plump

knees conjure English hills

where knots of un-dyed wool are sheep

clinging to Shropshire slopes,

un-trimmed black silks the flapping crows

that glean Derbyshire fields,

forgotten pins the straggling posts

loosened by Norfolk gales.

Child-brides embroidering scenes of

Albion to warm cold

marriage-beds, but fevers take girls

in moments, and nothing

is left to chance; fathers must sign

indentures, bartering

even younger daughters for their

dead un-bedded sisters.