When I was ten by Juliet Humphreys

When I was ten

Mum fell in love with Uncle Phil.
She always said to me it didn't mean
she loved Dad less,
only this time Dad found out
and rammed Mum's pink plastic hairbrush
down his best mate's throat.

        ***

The day they let Dad out of jail
he ran down the street in his socks,
shoes flung over some hedge;
knowing of nowhere else to go

he came home.
He'd kept his key and used it now.
It's as well we'd not moved
or he'd have gone straight back.

He boiled the kettle for coffee,
used the loo and looked around
at what was our life still.
He told me later how he needed shoes

but the only ones he could find to wear
were mine and Mum's. She'd binned
all his stuff – hoping, he supposed,
he'd not come back to know.

So there he was in pink stilettos,
heels hanging off the back,
walking like it was something new,
holding onto furniture that used to be his.

He gave up on the shoes, left our house
in his socks, picking his way down the road
avoiding stones

Mum came home from work
and without stopping to wonder why
she scooped up her shoes,
like stray children's toys.

She saw the lid left off the coffee jar.
Your dad's out then, was all she said.
You'll have him back, I accused her,
too old to believe in fairy tales.

I'll not, she replied,
eyes fixed on nothing,
smiling in spite of herself,
not if he doesn't ask.


• Juliet Humphreys say “About me: I would like to be a poet who teaches but too often it is the other way around.”

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